Giving up the keys isn’t an easy decision

Daveena Parnell holds the car door for her father, David Oveson, who has given up most of his driving due to a shoulder injury. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

Daveena Parnell holds the car door for her father, David Oveson, who has given up most of his driving due to a shoulder injury.

Sid Powell, 82, is like a lot of senior citizens who have lost their right to operate a motor vehicle because of their age or illnesses associated with their age.

Eleven years ago Powell suffered a stroke. At that time, his son, who is a police officer, visited Powell in the hospital. That’s when he was asked to give up his driver’s license.

Powell was emotional as he remembered giving up his keys. That also meant giving up working since he drove trucks for a living.

Powell said he knew that it was the right move to stop driving, adding that he likely would have made the decision on his own because of the complications from the stroke.

Even when Powell called the hospital to tell them about his stroke symptoms, he decided to drive to the hospital instead of waiting for an ambulance.

That trip to the hospital was the last time Powell was ever behind the wheel.

“I did not want to give it up,” he said.

He said while he was at the hospital his son and daughter visited him, and that was when his son delivered the news that his driving days were over.

“My son told me ‘I hate to have to tell you that I need your driver’s license,’” he said as he started to cry while reliving the conversation. “I just gave up my license right there. If you can’t drive, there is no point of having a license.”

Robert Stillwell, 64, said he lost his license and his ability to drive nearly 10 years ago because of his vision.

When Stillwell went to take his driver’s license test he was unable to read the questions and after confessing that fact to the Department of Motor Vehicles, he was ordered to surrender his license immediately.

“It was very hard because I was on the go all the time,” he said.

He now relies on the Montezuma County Senior Center and family members to take him places.

“I feel like my freedom has been taken away, but I do know it was the safest thing to do,” Stillwell said.

David Oveson, 64, said he knows the time is coming when he too will have to turn in his car keys.

While he still drives on occasion, most of the time he relies on his daughter to drive him to places he needs to go.

His daughter, Daveena Parnell, said her father will not even consider driving long distances.

After Oveson had a shoulder operation in 2009, he knew his truck driving days were over and he took an early retirement.

“I miss the truck driving a lot. It’s kind of hard getting used to staying home a lot,” he said.

Parnell said she doesn’t mind chauffeuring her father around.

“He calls me to tell me where we have to go, and I make the reservations,” she said.

Oveson said it’s a little disheartening knowing he has to depend on others for some of his trips.

“It took a little while to depend on someone else,” he said. “It’s a macho thing. I think an older person needs to know when to stop driving and start asking people for help.”

Senior Center

Montezuma County Senior Services Director Sue Fletcher said there are many seniors who have no business getting behind the wheel because of their age and health.

She said they are dangerous to themselves and the rest of the community, but she knows that taking away a driver’s license often will not stop that person from driving.

Fletcher said seniors continue driving after getting involved in accidents or having their license taken away from them and thinks police are more lenient toward the elderly when they are stopped for committing a traffic violation because Cortez is a small town.

“This is their last chance of being independent,” Fletcher said. She said rural residents who live away from a town would be more apt to continue to drive because they will not give up their homes to move closer to town.

Fletcher said she remembers a woman smashing her car into the senior center two years ago after she mistakenly pressed the accelerator instead of the brake pedal.

She also said there are some residents who drive to the senior center for lunch who probably should not be allowed behind the wheel.

Seniors living in small rural towns are less likely to give up driving than seniors living in a metro areas because there are more transportation options in larger communities, said Nancy White, director of public relations for AAA.

Mary Holladay, transit manager for Montezuma County Public Transportation, said there is alternative transportation for residents.

The senior center offers transportation or van service from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday throughout Montezuma County, so residents who do not or should not be driving have this option.

Fletcher added the shopping days are scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays, but added this does not mean this will be the only two days they can shop.

Holladay said the transportation is not exclusive for just senior citizens because anyone who wants a ride can hop on board because it is now funded by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The talk

White said age should not be the primary factor that dictates when a person should stop driving. She said that there are extremely good drivers in their 70s and 80s, and in many cases they are better drivers than younger adults.

Statistics from the Colorado State Patrol backs up White’s thinking.

From 2007 to 2010 there were 1,390 car crashes in Montezuma County, and only 114 of those involved a driver who was 65 or older.

And Colorado State Patrol Trooper Nate Reid said there is little way of knowing how many times the senior citizen was at fault in the crashes.

The statistics provided were only the crashes investigated or handled by the Colorado State Patrol and does not include figures from the Cortez Police Department,

However, statistics from AAA show that fatalities for drivers 85 and older do increase because a crash that may not kill a younger person would cause a death to an elderly person because their bodies are not able to handle significant impacts.

Of the 114 crashes from 2007 to 2010, there were three fatalities compared to 12 for the entire county that involved almost 1,400 crashes

AARP has a seminar available for relatives of elderly drivers who feel the seniors should no longer be driving but do not know how to approach them about this situation.

The seminar is called “We Need to Talk.”

The seminar also encourages the person having the talk to understand what driving means to older adults and the emotions that will be involved in giving up driving.

If an elderly driver maintains he or she is a good driver, the seminar teaches relatives how to observe driving skills objectively while talking about alternatives to driving.

AARP also recommends that before having the talk, relatives or friends should research the alternative transportation models that are available to help a loved one stay connected and remain independent.

A typical Colorado driver’s license is good for 10 years before it has to be renewed.

People age 61 and older, however, are required to renew their driver’s licenses every five years and people age 66 and older may renew by mail only if they submit results of a vision test performed within the last six months.

Bill Sanderman, state coordinator for the driver safety awareness program, thinks that passengers who ride with an elderly driver are often the best people to gauge driving ability. He said this should be done by a family member, especially if the “We Need to Talk” conversation happens.

Sanderman said another option is to report the driver to the motor vehicle department for erratic driving habits, which in turn should make the driver take a road test.

Sanderman said the rules on driver licensing for the elderly in Colorado are almost the same as for younger drivers, as some states require a test every one to two years for older drivers.

Warning signs

White said there are tell-tale signs that should provide clues that the time may be right to take the keys from a elderly relative or have that conversation.

She said if an elderly driver is starting to get more involved in fender benders or is receiving more traffic citations that should raise a red flag.

According to the AARP website (aarp.org), there are six warning signs that indicate drivers should begin to limit or stop driving, including:

Close crashes or close calls.

Finding dents and scrapes on cars, fences mailboxes and other places.

Getting lost, especially in familiar places.

Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs and pavement markings.

Responding more slowly to unexpected situations or having trouble moving their foot from the gas to the brake pedal or being confused with the two pedals.

Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps.

Many seniors, she said, start to police their own driving habits by refusing to drive at night, in inclement weather or busy traffic.

However, White said studies are underway to provide the elderly the chance to remain drivers for a little bit longer.

She said the studies that are underway would provide the elderly the opportunity to take their road tests in areas they are used to driving in to prevent them from being confused or disorientated in unfamiliar surroundings.

“We are starting to see a lot of research go on in that area,” White said.

Michael Maresh can be reached at michaelm@cortezjournal.com

Jewell Morrow exits the Vista Mesa bus at the Cortez Senior Center where she plays bridge. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green

Jewell Morrow exits the Vista Mesa bus at the Cortez Senior Center where she plays bridge.