Driving a car is a treasured symbol of freedom. From that first exhilarating drive with youthful spirit and a newly minted driver’s license, the car symbolizes more than just a way to get from here to there.

For this reason, the decision to stop driving can be a wrenching one. It brings up daunting practical challenges, and represents one more loss at a time of life already filled with other losses.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), senior drivers are at a higher risk of having a serious collision per mile driven than any other age group except for those under age 25. And drivers age 85 and older are injured or killed in crashes at a higher rate than any other age group.

Aging brings changes that impact the ability to drive safely. Vision and hearing become less acute, and less adaptable. Medical conditions and medications can affect alertness or cognition. Reaction times and decision making becomes slower. Years of experience and good driving habits can help seniors to compensate for these challenges for a time. But, there finally comes a day when you will set down your car keys for the last time.

Other changes, those not related to the driver at all, also play a role. Cars have changed. So have traffic rules, driving conditions and the roads you travel every day.

Driver safety courses for seniors focus on these specific challenges to driving. American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) driver safety courses teach students the current rules of the road, defensive driving techniques and how to operate a vehicle more safely in today's increasingly challenging driving environment. Classes also cover how to manage and accommodate common age-related changes in vision, hearing and reaction time.

In addition, topics cover the effects of dangerous blind spots, safe following distance, and safely navigating busy intersections.

New technology in cars can be daunting to learn, and distracting for over-faced drivers. And perhaps most importantly, classes cover how to monitor your own and others’ driving skills and capabilities.

AAA offers a web-based class called Road Wise Driver for a small fee, available at www.roadwisedriver.aaa.com/wa.

AAA teamed up with the University of Florida Institute for Mobility, Activity, and Participation to identify automobile features which optimize an older driver’s comfort and safety. Factors to consider include safety features, ergonomics, comfort, and value.

For example, a driver with limited knee range of motion, or hip and leg pain, might consider six-way adjustable seats, a low door threshold, smooth seat material such as leather, and adjustable foot pedals. The ideal seat height, neither too high nor too low, is between mid-thigh and lower buttocks.

A driver with diminished vision faces different concerns. Driving safety is optimized by extendable sun visors, larger audio and climate controls, a high-contrast instrument panel, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror and glare reduction side mirrors. More tips are available at their website, atwww.seniordriving.aaa.com.

When a senior driver does decide it’s time to give up the wheel, an important question remains. How do you get from here to there? C-Tran, the public transit authority in Clark County, operates both fixed route buses and C-Van, a point to point service for riders with medical need.

The Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington maintains a list of transportation services which address a range of riders’ needs. And Catholic Community Services offers volunteer transportation for those with financial need.

10 signs it's time to limit or stop driving: (from AARP)

• Almost crashing, with frequent close calls.

• Finding dents or scrapes on the car, or fences, mailboxes and garage doors at home.

• Getting lost, especially in familiar locations.

• Having trouble following traffic signals, road signs and pavement markings.

• Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving foot from gas to brake pedals, confusing the two pedals.

• Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps.

• Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain.

• Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving.

• Having a hard time turning around to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes.

• Receiving multiple traffic tickets or warnings from law enforcement officers.

RESOURCES

C-TRAN, (360) 695-0123

Catholic Community Services, (360) 213-2403, or Toll Free: (800) 317-1722

Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of SW Washington, (360) 694-8144;www.helpingelders.org

AARP Driver Safety Course, (360) 573-5665 (Call To Register)

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