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On senior citizens and driving

National dialogue on senior drivers opened with South Los Angeles crash

Posted: August 31, 2012 5:52 p.m.
Updated: August 31, 2012 5:52 p.m.

Senior-citizen drivers should prepare years in advance for the time when they’ll need to hand in their car keys, a local geriatrics doctor said Friday.

“One of the biggest problems our seniors face is the reality that at some point they can’t drive anymore,” said Gene Dorio, a medical doctor with a geriatrics practice in Newhall.

A 100-year-old South Los Angeles driver prompted a national discussion about when senior citizens should stop driving this week when he hit and injured 14 people, including 11 children, while backing his Cadillac out of a grocery store parking lot.

Last weekend, two Saugus seniors were driving home after picking up prescriptions at local pharmacies when they got lost and ended up stranded overnight on a dirt road south of Castaic Lake. The couple, who were both diabetic, had little food and no water.

They were eventually spotted by a helicopter pilot and taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.
Dorio said care-givers and family members should start talking to senior citizens up to five years before they potentially can’t drive anymore.

“When you realize it’s coming, you should look at alternatives,” Dorio said, adding that seniors can ride the bus for free in the city of Santa Clarita.

Adult children concerned about elderly parents’ driving abilities should take them on a test drive or follow behind them and look for any signs of impaired driving, Dorio said.

“If people can’t walk as well, that could be a reflection that they shouldn’t be driving,” Dorio said. “If people get lost while driving, that’s a tell-tale sign that they shouldn’t be driving.”

“You don’t want people trying to drive from Saugus to Canyon Country and ending up in San Francisco,” Dorio said.

Seniors can try to prolong their driving lives by wearing prescription glasses and hearing aids and exercising to keep their reflexes sharp, he said.

The decision of when someone is too old to drive should be made on a case-by-case basis, Dorio said. Some people can easily drive well into their 90s, he said.

There is no upper age limit for driving in California, but anyone over 70 has to take a written test and eye exam when renewing his or her license.

At the end of 2011, 71,111 people over the age of 90 were licensed to drive in California.

“If for any reason the (DMV) employee might detect some kind of lack of ability or diminished ability to drive, they might ask (the senior) to take a physical driving test,” DMV spokesman Armando Botello said.

Dorio said the DMV should make all senior citizens take a simulated driving test, which would be less subjective than a human examiner. He said he see patients who shouldn’t be driving at least a few times a month.

“I always ask my patients if they’re still driving,” Dorio said. “If someone does damage or hurts someone, they could be sued and lose their nest egg in one accident.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this article.



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