Resources available for elderly drivers and their families - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Resources available for elderly drivers and their families

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

An aging population signals more elderly drivers on our roadways. It also means more families must deal with a sensitive topic: When should seniors cast away the keys, and how do we keep our seniors safe behind the wheel?

An 82-year-old man is facing charges after he made an improper lane change on Saturday in Rutherford County. The driver crashed into a motorcyclist, who then hit another motorcyclist traveling on US Highway 231 . Just last month, officers said an elderly man in Sumner County collided with a semi-truck. Both he and his wife died.

But some experts say someone's age reveals little about his or her driving ability.

"Age is not a good predictor of [driving] skill," said Christy Horner, an occupational therapist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Horner specializes in driving rehabilitation at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center where senior citizens make up more than half her patients.

The waiting list stretches into September, she said. That's why the program is expanding. The unit will receive a second car to test drivers in the field. The therapists also use a variety of indoor tests to rate patients' agility, responsiveness, and vision.

The occupational therapists assess a driver's ability then make recommendations to physicians and families about whether patients should continue to drive.

Jeremy Lyon also works with dozens of senior citizens every year. As the owner of Brentwood Driver Training, he evaluates elderly drivers during two-hour sessions. Then he makes recommendations on whether they should re-take their driver's test.

Oftentimes the ordeal frustrates drivers.

"It's heartbreaking," Lyon said. "That's their ticket to freedom."

A study by Carnegie Mellon University found the same fatality rate among teens and drivers older than 65: Approximately three deaths per 100 million miles. That rate quadruples for people older than 80.

Lyon said most seniors can drive their typical routes around their neighborhoods or familiar places. But he finds applying skills in new locations can cause confusion for some drivers.

"They've already had their driver's license for 50 years so they know how to drive," he said.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation advises people of all ages to minimize distractions and avoid driving when tired or intoxicated.

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