Senior Power:The Driving Force

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Wednesday January 19, 2011 - 08:08:00 AM

I fell down recently, in downtown Berkeley, California – blood, paramedics and firefighters from Fire House #5, police, cervical collar, ambulance – the whole megillah. And there was a woman who heard the 155-pound thud, called 911, and came out of her store and stayed with me. My thanks to all of these people. They did a great job. Guys and gal: you were great. 

Then came the inexplicable part—the hospital emergency department, TV’s “ER”. To add insult to injury, I shortly received a survey and a SASE from a company located 2,204 miles away regarding my emergency room experience, which only compounded the incredible lack of care and evident waste of money! The Better Business Bureau (BBB) identifies the company as engaged in “medical business administration.” 


The American Association for the Advancement of Science reports that a popular sleep medicine puts older adults at risk for falls and cognitive impairment. Several billion doses of zolpidem, a generic drug marketed under several different brand names, including Ambien, Zolpimist, Edluar, Hypogen, Somidem and Ivedal, have been prescribed worldwide. New guidelines for preventing falls in the elderly include starting tai chi and cutting back on meds. (Eurekalert Jan. 13, 2011). 


Driving a car represents independence for many people. Especially senior citizens. Especially low-income and disabled senior citizens and those with no families. Within fifteen years, people 65 and older will make up more than 20 percent of the driving population. 

Driving a car can mean the difference between getting to and from the pharmacy, grocery store and public library and going without sustenance. It’s not surprising that fear of losing that independence – the ability to drive -- negatively affects the quality of many lives, especially in areas lacking strong public transportation systems. 

If you're worried about hanging on to your driver's license, make sure you understand your state's laws regarding senior citizens. In Pennsylvania, for example, each month a mature driver reexamination program selects (randomly, presumably) 1,900 drivers, ages 45 and older, for retesting six months prior to renewal of their driver license. Selected drivers are required to undergo vision and physical examinations, conducted by any licensed physician at no charge. Oregon requires certain medical care providers to submit a confidential form to Driver and Motor Vehicle Services if they detect potential driving impairment. DMV then decides to suspend a license or require additional tests. California residents must who drive must be able to pass a driving test “upon request.” 

Some state DMV offices also offer their own driver education programs for senior citizens. Mature drivers age 55 or older who successfully complete an approved course, maybe eligible for a reduction in their vehicle insurance premium. Check with your insurance provider. The California DMV manual suggests that “If you are concerned about maintaining your driving skills, you could contact your local senior groups for more information about mature driver education courses.” A call to the nearest senior center informs me that there is nothing going at that center-- “call the county.” A list of the approved programs is available on California DMV’s website at

Driving simulators can help older adults improve their road skills according to an Association for Psychological Sciences news release. 

The AARP Driver Safety Program (used to be called AARP 55 Alive) offers fee-based driver ed refresher courses for seniors. Contact Summit Hospital, Emeryville Senior Center, Albany Senior Center, Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, and Mastick Senior Center in Alameda. This program is “the first and most recognized comprehensive nationwide course designed especially for the older driver.” 

Many baby boomers are concerned about their parents’ driving. Though middle-class retirement communities in the Sun Belt continue to grow, the majority of baby boomer retirees are opting to stay in the suburban communities where they raised their families. Life in most of those places requires a car. Aging baby boomers mean more seniors on the road. As boomers age, 1 in 5 drivers will be oldsters. Yet another label. I have begun a list of epithets and euphemisms assigned to senior citizens. “Oldsters” is derived from the Boston Globe. And I see “spritely” in Japan’s Daily Yomiuri. 


In November 2010 a two-day forum, “Safety, Mobility and Aging Drivers,” considered crash data, travel patterns, vehicle protections, highway design and driver screening and training. There were unexpected findings. Older drivers are doing better than they used to. They are getting into fewer deadly automobile accidents. Though highway fatalities have dropped overall in the past few years, the declines have been dramatic among the elderly, declining by half among those over 80. 

Anne McCartt of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and co-author of a recent report on older drivers pointed out that, while highway deaths have dropped across the board, the decline in fatal crash involvement from 1997 to 2006 for drivers over 70 was much greater — 37 percent — than it was among drivers ages 35 to 54. Police data from 13 states also suggest that older drivers are involved less often in nonfatal injury crashes and in those causing only property damage. "When there is a crash, older drivers are less likely to die," according to McCartt. "We don't havea good explanation for this yet… it may be, in part, because older drivers are more healthy and fit than they once were.” 

Women tend to give up driving earlier than men their age, yet they live longer. University of Alberta gerontologist Bonnie Dobbs pointed out that as a result, men outlive their driving careers by six years but women by seven, potentially restricting their independence and mobility sooner than necessary. Some panelists noted that women might be more accustomed than men to being passengers rather than drivers. 

The 2010 edition of the American Medical Association’s “Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers” is available online. It was developed by the AMA in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

International and Local news: 

"Shingles vaccine is effective, even in older patients, study finds," by Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2011. 

"Shingles Vaccine Looks Like a Safe Bet for Seniors: Study," by Amanda Gardner, HealthDay, January 11, 2011. 

Thursday, February 3, 1:30-3PM. Alameda County Library Albany Branch at 1247 Marin Av (510 526-3720): Interactive Program for Older Adults. “Mental fitness and memory.” Speaker, Hope Klein Levy, Lifelong learning specialist. For dates of this program at other branches,

The 704-member Elder Justice Coalition’s Leadership Council met on January 7 to review 2010 and to set priorities for 2011. “Obviously, the top priority for 2011 is funding for the EJA in FY 2011 and FY 2012.” Two very important laws are up for reauthorization—the Older Americans Act (OAA) (Title VII is dedicated to enhancing elder rights and promoting elder justice) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In addition to the Elder Justice Act, the Coalition hopes to assist in the redrafting and supportofseveral other elder abuse/elder justice bills itendorsed in the last Congress. They are: 


  • The Elder Abuse Victims Actwould provide grant funding for elder abuse prevention and assistance programs as well as training, technical assistance, and support to law enforcement officials in catching those who commit crimes of elder abuse.
  • The National Silver Alert Actwould create a national network for locating missing seniors.
  • The Senior Financial Empowerment Actrequires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to disseminate to seniors and their families and caregivers information on mail, telemarketing, and Internet fraud targeting seniors, including on ways of referring complaints to appropriate law enforcement agencies. The legislation also calls for the creation of a website to use as a resource in preventing fraud targeting seniors.
  • The Preventing Affinity Scams on Seniors (PASS) Actwould offer “senior protection accounts” which allow senior customers to opt-in for services that stop the processing and investigate the legitimacy of those transactions suspected to be part of affinity scams; report suspected affinity scams to the pertinent law enforcement agencies; anddesignate a staff person to handle affinity scams against seniors and provide training to their staff and educate their customers on affinity scams targeting senior citizens.
The American Society on Aging meeting in San Francisco April 26-30, 2011, has accepted a panel discussion highlighting the Older Women’s League: The Voice of Midlife and Older Women’s impacts on women’s issues and current efforts to develop community partnerships through its chapters and members at large to serve the diversity of women. If you would like to be a participant on the panel and have stories and ideas on the subject, “Women like you make the world better for all women”, contact

The Golden Girls Organization at the California Institution for Women (CIW) consists of 100+ women age 55 and older. Females have almost 0% recidivism rate. OWL member Jane Benson, W28860, EB517 CIW, 16756 Chino Corona Road, Corona , CA 02880-9508.