Quitting driving: Families key but docs have role

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More objective measures are needed _ and to help find them, hundreds of older drivers are letting scientists install video cameras, GPS systems and other gadgets in their cars as part of massive studies of everyday driving behavior.

Identifying who needs to quit should be a last resort, said Jon Antin of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. He helps oversee data collection for a study that’s enrolling 3,000 participants, including hundreds of seniors, in Florida, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington. The drivers undergo a battery of medical checks before their driving patterns are recorded for 12 to 24 months.

“If you identify people at risk, maybe you can intervene to prolong the safe driving period,” agreed Dr. Shawn Marshall of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. He helps lead Canada’s CanDrive II, a project that’s tracking 928 drivers in their 70s for five years, to see how their driving changes as they get older.

For now, advocacy groups like the Alzheimer’s Association and AARP offer programs to help families spot signs of driving problems and determine how to talk about it.

“I would like to think that my husband would say, `You really shouldn’t be driving anymore’ and I wouldn’t get mad at him,” said Sally Harris, 75, of Crystal Lake, Ill., who took AARP’s “We Need to Talk” program in hopes of broaching the subject with a 90-year-old friend who’s having driving problems.

Others turn to driver rehabilitation specialists, occupational therapists who can spend up to four hours evaluating an older driver’s vision, memory, cognition and other abilities before giving him a behind-the-wheel driving test. Some doctors and state licensing authorities order those evaluations, but programs can be hard to find, often have waiting lists and cost several hundred dollars that insurance may not cover.

Having a professional involved can keep family relationships intact, said Pam Bartle, a driver rehab specialist at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Ill.

Still, “you could have the sweetest, nicest little old lady and she’ll turn on you on a dime if you tell her she can’t drive,” Bartle said. “It’s a desperate thing for people. They can’t imagine how they’ll manage without driving.”

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Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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