New program helps determine when seniors should stop driving - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

New program helps determine when seniors should stop driving

(WTVM) -

For years, state and city agencies have struggled to determine when is the right time for senior citizens to hang up their car keys.

Now a company in Columbus is partnering with the Georgia Public Health Department, local physicians and care providers to help develop an answer to that question.

"Losing your driver's license is a lot more than losing a license, it's losing your independence," says Al Barber, owner of Barber's driving services and creator of the new senior citizen driving evaluation.

Just two weeks ago an 85-year-old woman accidentally hit the gas instead of the brakes crashing into the Egg and I restaurant in Columbus, causing over $5,000 in damage.

The next day Barber's Driving school performed a senior driving evaluation for her, which Barber says could have been more effective if it was performed before her accident.

"Many times seniors can continue to drive way past the point when people think they should hang the keys up, they just need a refresher course," says Barber.

New technology like back-up cameras and larger mirrors can really help improve the driving of senior citizens. Barber says taking away driving privileges should be a last resort. 

"The program we are developing is a program that will probably be developed throughout the state and then probably throughout the entire country," Barber said.

He expects to serve 1,000 seniors within two to three years before expanding statewide. 

Seniors can walk in for assessment or be referred by their care giver or physician. The driving evaluation will examine driver history, depth perception,
mobility and memory, but Barber says the medical component will be one of the biggest pieces of the assessment.
 
"We have developed a prescription pad so when a senior comes in and asks does this medication that I am taking, will it affect my driving," said Barber.

According to AAA, more than 75 percent of drivers age 65 or older report using one or more medications, but less than one-third acknowledged awareness of its impact on driving performance. 

Barber says the prescription pads are a major component of the new senior driving assessment.

For example, a patient with dementia would be legally required to undergo a driving evaluation every six months and in the event a senior citizen does not pass, Barber says the new initiative will provide resources like counseling and alternative forms of transportation to help soften the blow.

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