HAMPTON ROADS, VA – One in every five fatal crashes in Hampton Roads involves at least one driver who is 65 or over. It’s just one of the reasons why local experts say seniors need to plan ahead now for the day when they give up the keys, before it’s too late.
Steve Fogelgren of Hampton drove for more than 50 years until he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “Your reaction time is slowed down tremendously. You can’t react,” he told 10 On Your Side.
Fogelgren could feel his abilities slipping away, saying he was an “accident about to happen.”
Late last month, Fogelgren stopped driving and sold his car. Now he and his wife arrange rides with friends, or Joan drives.
Jo Mason of Virginia Beach gets in her Chevy Impala several times a week – shopping, visiting family, and going to church. “This is my means of transportation, how I get from A to B. So this is very important to me.”
AAA Tidewater’s Georjeane Blumling hears that a lot from seniors. “One of the concerns that seniors have is that they’re terrified that someone is going to take away their driver’s license.”
So Mason signed up for AAA’s Car-Fit, where she got measured to make sure her steering wheel, seat position, mirrors and other equipment are adjusted properly. Mason told us she was surprised how a few adjustments made her driving safer and more comfortable. “Especially with the distance sitting in the car,” Mason said, “and the mirrors, that was the biggest surprise, and the headrests.”
Mason says she pays close attention to her ability to drive, now that she’s “getting up there.” Blumling says there’s no magic age when it’s time to give up the keys. “For some people it may be as early as in their early 60s.”
Matt Pagels is a driving evaluator. He determines whether senior drivers are still fit to be on the road. Pagels sees about a dozen seniors a week after they are referred to him by either their doctor or the Department of Motor Vehicles. Pagels says calculating speed, time and distance account for many of the problems with senior drivers. “The biggest thing is high speed lane changes,” he said.
His first step is to evaluate seniors in the surroundings they already know, such as the grocery store, a family member’s house, their church. Pagels says about 30 percent will fail. “The way I describe that is they’re not safe to drive at all.” Others will pass with conditions that will limit their driving to five or ten miles from home, no night driving, or no interstate driving.
AAA’s best advice for senior drivers in advance of that fateful day is to start thinking now about how you’ll navigate the notion of no longer driving. “You need to be in charge of that conversation,” Blumling said. “Don’t wait until it’s your children and your doctor and they’re coming to you.”
That’s exactly what the Fogelgrens did. “Sooner or later, that accident will happen,” Joan said. Steve is happy he didn’t wait too long. “It’s a risk you don’t have to take, where someone could lose their life, where you could lose your life.”
Pagels says when someone else makes the decision for you, it can get contentious. “Some folks are very gracious about it, that’s probably not the norm.”