Georgia programs help senior drivers stay safe on the road

Not every senior wants to trade in his or her vehicle for the popular GoGo Grandparent or other ride-sharing services, which is why Georgia has a couple of programs to help older drivers remain safe when traveling.

CarFit is a free educational program and safety check to help seniors feel comfortable in their cars, and Yellow Dot is a new program that helps first responders act quickly when seniors have an accident or roadside emergency.

Older adults, as a group, are good drivers, according to AARP. They’re more likely to wear their seat belt, drive the speed limit and not drink and drive. But the chance of being injured or killed in a crash increases with age.

Twenty percent of all vehicle-related fatalities in 2012 in Georgia involved a driver age 65 or older, with the majority of senior crashes occuring in the middle of the day during the week.

CarFit is all about making seniors safer in their cars. The national program, sponsored by AARP, AAA and the American Occupational Therapy Association, is designed to help older drivers overcome the effects of aging that can hinder their driving ability. Maybe the head no longer snaps around quickly enough to check the mirrors. Or shoulders have slumped over time, so the seat belt no longer fits properly.

“Some seniors do recognize that they don’t quite fit in their vehicle the same way as they are aging,” said Elizabeth Head, Older Drivers Safety Program coordinator for the Georgia Department of Public Health. “One of the biggest concerns seniors have is vision, both depth and peripheral vision, which are both important for driving.”

The program uses trained volunteers to administer a 12-point inspection starting with the most important item — wearing a seat belt.

Head, who is a certified coordinator for CarFit, remembers an older female driver who when asked said she did in fact wear her seat belt, but wasn’t happy about it. The belt came across her neck and it was uncomfortable.

Head and her team adjusted the seat belt so it fit the woman properly. “She was so happy about the seat belt that I don’t think she heard any of other 11 points,” Head said.

The inspection also includes making sure the driver is far enough away from the steering wheel so as not to get hurt if the air bag comes out. Mirrors are checked and adjusted to eliminate blind spots. Seniors are also taught how to use new technologies such as backup mirrors and lane departure warnings.

CarFit events can be hosted by organizations, civic groups or churches, and can be scheduled through the Older Drivers Safety Program at 404-657-2894. The state typically schedules CarFit events in the spring and fall months. The check is free and takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. The program does not assess a senior’s fitness to drive.

Head also works with aging drivers and their families, encouraging them to be proactive in their driving skills. She speaks with senior groups and professionals who work with seniors about how mobility and transportation factor into their independence. And Head represents Georgia’s older population when state transportation engineers are planning roadways. Her task is to ensure road designs and walkways are senior-friendly.

“What I love about the older driver population is they are experienced behind the wheel and they know when they can no longer do something, so they don’t take risks. They’ll self-restrict their driving,” said Head.

If cataracts prevent them from seeing well at night, they’re more likely to limit their driving to daylight hours. If making a left-hand turn against traffic has become too dangerous, they’ll drive a different way so they are making a right-hand turn instead.

The state is also rolling out a new program called Yellow Dot, a communications tool that helps first responders give quicker care to seniors in an emergency situation.

The program works like this:

• Seniors sign up voluntarily and fill out an extensive medical questionnaire, listing all medical conditions, allergies and current medications.

• This medical information is kept in the glove compartment and a Yellow Dot decal is affixed to the outside of the vehicle.

• The dot will alert first responders that the medical information is available if needed in an emergency.

• The information can also be kept at home on top of the refrigerator with the yellow decal placed on the front door for in-home emergencies.

The program has been launched in Athens, Savannah and Dublin so far, with more cities in the works, Head said.

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