Steering seniors to better driving

Program helps elderly polish skills behind wheel

February 02, 2005|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Roy Nash of Lutherville says he knows his skills behind the wheel aren't what they used to be.

So yesterday, the 81-year-old World War II veteran went back to driving school.

Nash was among about three dozen seniors who jammed a meeting room at the Cockeysville Senior Center for the first of four classes in a new course aimed at evaluating and polishing the driving skills of older motorists.

The course, called MOVE (Mature Operators Vehicular Education), is a pilot program aimed at helping the elderly stay behind the wheel - safely - as long as they can. It was devised by AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other groups to meet the needs of the fastest-growing segment of the driving public - motorists 55 and older.

If the pilot is well-received, the program could eventually be offered statewide, said Jackie Milani, safe communities director for Hopkins' Center for Injury Research and Policy.

Nash is one of several participants who gave the program a glowing review. "I thought 10 years ago we should have something like this," he said.

Like many of the seniors in the class, he isn't defensive when asked if there may have been a decline in his driving skills. He says he thinks about that all the time.

The self-described "rough-and-tumble guy" says he tries to restrict his driving to between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. He avoids turning at certain intersections that don't have a traffic signal. And two years ago he sold his motorcycle because riding it was more work than fun.

The AAA estimates there will be more than 40 million drivers 65 and older in the United States in 2020. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers in that age group have the second-highest death rate per mile in accidents, after teenagers. Government studies show that drivers 65 and older account for 10 percent of licensed drivers but 12 percent of traffic fatalities.

Where younger drivers' accidents are frequently the result of risky behavior or inexperience, older motorists are more likely to get into crashes because of poor vision, inattention and slowed response time, according to AAA.

Myra Wieman, AAA Mid-Atlantic traffic safety manager, led the seniors through the use of an interactive CD recently released by AAA called Roadwise Review, which gives them tests to assess their driving skills privately with the help of one partner.

In one of them - a test of head-neck flexibility - Justine Feudale, 79, of Timonium sat with her back to the computer 10 feet away as a symbol flashed on the screen.

"You have to have swivel eyes," she said as she looked over her shoulder and correctly identified a circle.

The students' homework assignment is to complete the computerized assessment over the next week. At the next session, instructors will teach driving skills for dealing with emergency road conditions adapted from courses developed for law enforcement officers.

The third session will be a presentation by the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and an opportunity for seniors to meet one-on-one with a visiting pharmacist to review their medications. The final installment will deal with proper use of seat belts and child safety seats.

Information: 410-614-5555.

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