May 10, 2007
Rae Carol Plantz recalled what she heard when an elderly driver smashed into a pharmacy in Crozet in March. "We heard this loud pop that kind of sounded like an earthquake. Someone had driven through the front of the building."
Two months later, another elderly person smashed into a cleaners in Charlottesville.
Due to hearing and eyesight loss and slower reflexes, elderly drivers have higher rates of deadly crashes. But according to Jim Hagadone, an AARP driving instructor, there is a way to combat this danger.
"They can learn what to do when their sight's not too good," said Hagadone. "They can learn what to do when their hearing's not too good."
Hagadone believes courses like his can save lives by helping the elderly adapt to their impaired senses, for example, by using their headlights more often.
"In fact, I teach, if you look in the mirror and you aren't wearing your sunglasses, turn on your headlights. Period," Hagadone explains.
Student Mike Wheelwright is taking the course now as a preventative measure, so he does not learn the hard way that his driving skills aren't what they used to be. "You learn in this course to anticipate your limitations, and if you can see little highlights, go see a doctor," he said.
Luckily, no one was seriously hurt in the two local accidents, but that is not always the case. And with baby boomers reaching 85 by 2030, many states, such as Illinois and New Hampshire, are tightening laws, requiring older drivers to retake driver's tests in person.
In Virginia, a driver does not need to do that until the age of 80.
"I think that's a disservice," shared Wheelwright. "I may eat my words later on, though."
Stricter laws or not, Hagadone believes the more students he has, the more lives that are saved.