New Jersey’s senior drivers strive to stay on the road

By Robert MacPherson ,AFP

TOMS RIVER, New Jersey — Don Robertson isn’t the type to let a snowstorm on the first day of spring �X or his age �X stop him from doing his appointed rounds. ��Driving means to keep motivated,�� says ��Mr. Don�� as he set outs in his SUV to pick up a fellow Jersey Shore senior who no longer holds a driver’s license. ��You don’t be still and you don’t get stiff,�� adds the sexagenarian New Jersey native who once drove 2-1/2 ton trucks for the U.S. Army. ��As long as you keep moving, you can keep going.�� With 20,000 Americans turning 65 every day, seniors behind the wheel �X and their ability to keep driving safely into their 70, 80s and 90s �X is a hot topic. Nearly 85 percent held driver’s licenses in 2010, compared to barely half in the early 1970s, according to American Automobile Association (AAA) research. ��We know through research that older drivers are among the safest on the road,�� said Jacob Nelson, the AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. ��They’re most likely to buckle up, least likely to speed and drink-and-drive,�� he told AFP. Yet, with age comes the prospect of illnesses that impact on the ability to safely drive �X from macular degeneration and hearing loss to dementia and Parkinson’s disease. More than 90 percent of older drivers are also on some kind of prescription medicine, the AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety says.

High Demand They are ��vulnerable road users,�� said Nelson, statistically more likely to be injured or killed in a crash that a younger driver might walk away from. Robertson is part of a team of senior drivers at Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey who give rides to other seniors who can no longer drive themselves. Demand is high. In Ocean County �X home to 92 retirement communities, and where one in five residents is over 65 �X a ride to the doctor or dentist needs to be booked two weeks in advance. ��The need for transportation in our area is just huge,�� Lynette Whiteman, Caregiver Volunteers’ executive director, told AFP. Waiting for Robertson at her tidy bungalow was Mary Roberts, 88, who sadly remembered the day in June 2006 when she took herself off the road for good. She was the passenger in a vehicle that crashed on the Garden State Parkway, a major north-south thoroughfare, throwing her head against the windshield. After a weekend of rest, Roberts thought she was fine �X until she attempted the otherwise routine drive to a local community services bureau where she helped manage the accounts. ��I found myself going on sidewalks and all over the place. I couldn’t seem to control the car and I didn’t know what to do when I saw a light,�� she said. ��Finally I did manage to get to the office and I just cried and cried and cried�� �X and yet to be told by doctors that she suffered irreversible brain damage. ��Not being able to drive has changed my life in every aspect,�� said Roberts from the front passenger’s seat of ��Mr. Don’s�� ride. She is open to the idea of a robot vehicle, like the self-driving car that Google is developing with an eye in part on the ever-growing retiree market.