Giving up driving a difficult choice for some seniors

Every three years, Esther Vadnais, 79, of Woodstock, takes a safe driving course through AARP to review the rules of the road.

The instructors help seniors review and learn how to compensate for changes to vision, hearing and reaction time, how to handle blind spots, how to use anti-lock brakes and how to assess their own driving abilities, among other things.

For going through the course, she and her husband, Robert, received a discount on their insurance, Esther Vadnais said.

Vadnais is one of the 1.3 million drivers in Illinois age 65 and older, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Making the decision to give up that license is difficult, as it means giving up independence.

In Illinois, people age 75 to 80 must take road and written tests every four years. People 81 to 86 years old must take them every two years. People 87 and older have to retest each year. Written tests in all instances are waived if the person has a good record with no infractions.

Even though Vadnais passed her most recent driving test, she has discussed with her four grown children about if and when she and her husband would give up the privilege.

“We have discussed our aging, and when we need help that they would be available,” Esther Vadnais said. “My husband and I both feel when we should stop driving, we will.”

“If my eyesight got bad, I think I would probably feel that I wasn’t capable of driving,” Vadnais added.

Lora Pfeiffer is the owner of All Four Wheels Driving school in Algonquin.

She said the same message she gives to her students about driving applies to everyone.

“It’s a privilege, not a right,” Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer’s mother lost her license when she was 75 because of mistakes she made while trying to get her license renewed.

Family members now have to take Pfeiffer’s mother to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments, Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer said the ability to react in situations diminishes as people get older.

Pfeiffer said seniors need to be cognizant of their vision and hearing ability as they get older because drivers need to be able to hear sirens and see other vehicles.

“Everything we teach kids, it lessens as you get older,” Pfeiffer said. “We start losing our sight, we start losing hearing. Reaction time is so important.”

As for approaching parents with the difficult decision, every situation is different and based on the individual, Pfeiffer said.

If there is a history of accidents or close-call situations, children should be straightforward with their parents and say “this is something we need to consider maybe not doing anymore,” Pfeiffer said.

Three to four years ago, Cary resident Malinda Bacchi noticed her husband, Michael, 73, didn’t see a turn and didn’t see a car coming while driving back from Wisconsin.

“He decided that it wasn’t worth killing someone to keep driving,” Malinda Bacchi said.

With Michael Bacchi not driving, it has an effect on the family, Malinda Bacchi said.

“If he wants to go anyplace he has to have someone who’s willing to take him, or that’s available to take him,” Malinda Bacchi said.

For Malinda, who is 71, she is keeping some things in mind to look for about herself.

“If I would get to the point where I couldn’t judge distance, judge how close I was to a car next to me, even pulling into the garage, how I’m parking the car in the garage, I think maybe I should go for a class or get my eyes checked again,” Malinda Bacchi said.

AARP Driving Safety Class

AARP has scheduled a two-day refresher course for drivers age 50 and older. The eight-hour course will review the rules of the road and accident prevention skills. 

The course will help drivers overcome the effects of aging in driving. 

Most insurance companies offer discounts on insurance when the course is completed, the news release said.

Pre-registration and attendance on both days are required.

The class is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 19 and 21 at the Algonquin Township Office at 3702 Northwest Highway in Crystal Lake. The cost is $15 for members and $20 for nonmembers.

For information, call 847-639-2700, ext. 7.

By the numbers

• 1.3 million drivers in the state are age 65 and older.

• 239,000 drivers are between the ages of 75 and 79.

• 260,000 drivers are over age 80.

Source: Secretary of State’s office

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