COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Taking care of elderly parents can present challenges for many families, especially when it comes to the point where they can no longer drive.
"I've driven since I was 12 and a half years old. The Sheriff and them had to overlook it because my dad died and my mother couldn't drive," said 85-year-old Laverne Wright.
However, the smooth coasting came to an end for Wright last year when she experienced a life-threatening medical emergency. While the stroke-like symptoms were never officially diagnosed, the doctor did seem sure of one thing: Laverne could not continue living the life she was used to.
It's often a a battle between independence and safety. Caring for aging parents can be a difficult journey, especially when deciding if they can safely stay behind the wheel.
"My daughter took that to heart, and said you can't drive anymore and you can't live alone," said Wright, "At that point I wasn't fighting it too much because I wasn't full recovered."
However, after moving into an assisted living facility and going through a lengthy recovery, her attitude changed.
"Oh it was chaotic, upsetting, depressing. I just didn't have much self-esteem. I'm so used to being independent" said Wright.
Laverne knew two things. She wanted to drive again, and she wanted to move back home.
"I kept saying, 'I don't need to be here anymore, I don't want to be here anymore,'" Wright said.
That's when Al Barber, owner of Barber's Driving School in Columbus, came into the picture.
"Because of the increased number of seniors who are involved in crashes and being killed in car wrecks, we decided to join up with the Department of Public Health. I became a member of their task force for injury prevention for older drivers, and I agreed to help develop a program for the state that could be cookie-cut," said Barber.
Barber and his team say they've been giving senior-driver evaluations for the last 40 years. Now, they're working to create a system that they say doesn't exist in Georgia, to help find out if older or disabled drivers can continue hitting the roads.
"Right now there is no legal obligation for anyone, including your doctor, to make a medical referral, saying that you're not stable to drive anymore in Georgia," said Barber.
The six-hour evaluation and driving course refresher has six in-depth parts. First, Barber and his staff will look into the history of the driver in question; talking to care-givers and family members. Step two is to evaluate their legal history and if they have the right to drive in Georgia. Then comes a cognitive test in the office, which includes brain games and puzzles.
Step four includes a series of tests for balance, strength, eyes, and reaction time. Barber has a machine that judges how quick you can put on the break in an emergency.
News Leader 9's Emilie Arroyo had a reaction time that happened to be just 0.04 of a second faster than Wright.
"You're way below the national average, of 3/4 of a second, 0.75. You're scoring right in there with the teenagers," Barber told Arroyo.
Wright did too. At 85, she is beating national averages, taking about half a second to react.
In step five Barber runs a driver's medical prescriptions through a database to flag any possible side effects that could affect them on the road. Finally, Barber applies information from all the above into an in-car driving test.
Turns out both Wright and Arroyo are equally fit and safe to coast the roads of Columbus, showing age sometimes has nothing to do with it.