Expo aims to help seniors be safe drivers

Willma Johnson drifted across the center line and nearly struck a car traveling in the opposite direction.

“I am exceeding the speed limit and losing control,” she said. “If there was a cop behind me, he’d pull me over.”

But there was no cop behind her and she was never in any real danger.

Johnson was using a driving simulator at the AAA Senior Driver Expo at Fairhaven Church in Centerville.

Johnson, 80, of Miamisburg, attended Thursday’s event in the hopes of assessing her driving skills and reflexes and to learn more about how to improve them.

“I hope to learn that I am safe on the road,” she said.

In addition to learning safe-driving tips, she also learned that driving simulations sometimes can be harder than the real thing.

Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of drivers nationwide, and about one in four drivers will be 65 or older by 2025, according to AAA projections.

Though older drivers are no more likely to be involved in auto crashes than motorists of other age groups, they are more likely to be injured or killed in crashes, and therefore they can benefit from education and training on how to reduce the risk of crashing, said Cindy Antrican, spokeswoman for the AAA Allied Group for the Miami Valley.

“A 75-year-old driver is at no more risk of being in a crash than a 30-year-old driver, but the consequences will be different because (older people) are frailer,” she said. “We want to help them drive safer.”

The massive baby boomer population is aging, and the number of senior citizens on the roadways has soared.

Driving is crucial to maintaining independence, and it often is a quality-of-life issue.

In 2012, there were about 193,905 licensed drivers 65 and older in Butler, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties, according to Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle data analyzed by the Dayton Daily News.

That was up 30 percent from 2000. Also, the share of licensed drivers who are senior citizens in the region has risen to 18 percent.

As people age, some inevitably struggle with deteriorating health and eyesight.

Older people often must take medications that can impair their driving. Reaction times can slow later in life.

But there is no age that people reach in which they must stop driving, Antrican said.

Many people retain their driving skills their entire lives, while some seniors may simply need to modify their driving habits and daily routines to help keep them on the road, Antrican said.

“We all age differently,” she said.

Seniors can limit night-time driving to cope with poor eyesight. Or they can seek new glasses or lenses. Some seniors may be able to switch medications or take them at a different time of day to avoid drowsiness or other undesirable side effects of certain pharmaceuticals.

Even when driving skills have eroded, seniors can sharpen their skills through certain exercises, training and tests, experts said.

The driving simulator was one of several tools available Thursday to help people identify driving behaviors that may need more work.

“(The simulator) tests your various driving abilities and deals with intersection management, turn management, speed and all of those types of things,” Kyle Herman, manager of the Injury Prevention Center at Miami Valley Hospital, which owns the simulator.

AAA recommends seniors evaluate their cars and trucks to make sure they are fitted to meet their needs.

Minor adjustments to the side mirrors can eliminate blind spots.

Moving the car seats back can protect seniors against injuries if a crash occurs and the airbag deploys.

Seniors can oftentimes adjust their gas and brake pedals to promote quicker reaction times.

“A few small adjustments can make a world of difference, not only for the comfort of the driver but also how safely they drive,” said Anthony Hale, an insurance agent with AAA.

Frances Daubert, a senior from Centerville who attended the expo, said she wants to be the safest driver possible, and that takes work on her part.

“I suspect that my driving is not absolutely perfect, and I feel responsible when I am out on the road for every pedestrian and every other driver,” she said. “I want to know what my faults are and improve on them.”

Daubert said night-time glare gives her troubles while driving. But she learned that polarized lenses could help out.

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