Now 89 years old with eye problems, Knobloch had to stop driving in January.
"It has meant changing my whole life," Knobloch said. "My wife doesn't drive. So now I'm having to depend on other people to take me where I want to go."He worried that he would be forced to quit his part-time job at Sheridan Road Lumber.
"My boss told me not to quit," said Knobloch, a retired typesetter. "Three days a week someone from Sheridan Road Lumber picks me up and brings me home."
Marilou Putman can empathize with Knobloch. She quit driving Aug. 26 on her 85th birthday.
"My family asked me to stop driving," said Putman, a widow and retired Realtor. "They thought it was safer for me not to drive. I have seven children - three sons who are doctors - so I thought I'd better listen."
As a very active person, Putman now relies on friends, family members and the transportation program at Lutheran Hillside Village in Peoria, Ill., for rides to appointments, shopping and her many cultural activities.
Both Knobloch and Putman feel fortunate to be residents of Lutheran Hillside Village, which boasts an extensive transportation program for its residents.
"We have two buses and a passenger van that is going day and night for our residents," said Rita Vicary, director of marketing for Lutheran Hillside Village.
"They ride our buses for doctor's appointments and shopping trips. We also schedule trips in the evening to concerts, plays and ballgames."
The number of elderly drivers is soaring in the United States. In 2000, there were some 18.5 million licensed drivers 70 and older in the United States. That's an increase of 39 percent from 1989, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Older drivers are living longer and driving longer. Baby boomers will begin turning 65 in 2011. It is predicted that by 2030, one out of every five drivers will be 65 or older.
For seniors, driving means independence - the ability to come and go as they please. But that independence must be balanced with road safety.
Compared with other drivers, those older than 70 have a higher fatality rate per mile driven than any other age group except drivers under age 25, according to the NHTSA. Elderly drivers also have surpassed teenagers as the age group with the highest number of traffic accidents per mile.
But it's difficult for seniors to voluntarily give up the keys to their cars. Being unable to drive in our highly mobile, fast-paced society means living in isolation for some seniors.
"It's a very serious problem," Vicary said. "It can be especially tough on seniors who live by themselves and don't have family. Many seniors are uncomfortable or unable to take taxis or public buses. If they can't find a ride, they have to stay home. With our society getting older, this problem is only going to get worse."
Old age isn't a barrier to driving, but age-related medical and personal problems might be. When does a senior's independence take a back seat to safety?
"There is no certain age when a senior is too old to drive," said Dr. Robert Frost of Peoria, a volunteer instructor for AARP's driver safety program for seniors. "When physical and mental conditions prevent them from being a safe driver, that's when it is time to stop driving. But everyone is different. In my class, I have had drivers who were 93.
"Some people should stop driving at 65. There are others who are still good drivers at 93."
To drive safely, older drivers must acknowledge their limitations and adapt, said Frost, a retired dentist.
"I'm 82," he said. "I know I'm not the same driver I was 20 years ago. As we age, our reaction times get slower. Our depth perception and peripheral vision diminish. Our hearing may not be as good."
Frost's class takes into consideration the physical changes of maturing drivers and identifies ways they may compensate for those changes. Older drivers might need to change their driving habits by driving fewer miles; avoiding freeways; not driving at night, during rush hour or in bad weather; and allowing greater following distance from the car in front of them. He stressed that older drivers should periodically review the Rules of the Road booklet to stay familiar with the traffic rules and road signs.
Frost and his wife, Ruth, have been teaching the AARP driver safety class for 14 years. They have taught some 4,000 students during that time. The class is scheduled each month and consists of two, four-hour sessions. For completing the course, participants are given a 5 percent to 15 percent reduction in the cost of their liability insurance.
The Frosts practice what they preach in class.
"We plan our car trips ahead, even in the city," Ruth Frost said. "Making left turns is particularly difficult for some older drivers. We will go out of our way to plan a trip to avoid as many left turns as possible. We also plan our trips so we aren't driving at night or peak traffic times."
Licensing laws vary from state to state. In Illinois, seniors face tougher licensing. Drivers who reach 75 must take a road test every four years. At age 81, drivers must take the road test every two years and every year at age 87 and older.
The Institute of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation offers a comprehensive driving evaluation and training program for seniors and anyone with a physical disability. People interested in the program must be referred by a physician.
"Mobility is so critical to all of us," said Joanne Thomas, director of the Central Illinois Agency on Aging. "Driving is the key to having easy access to so many activities and services."
The Central Illinois Agency on Aging provided some $147,000 last year to help fund transportation services for people unable to drive in Peoria, Fulton, Tazewell, Woodford, Marshall and Stark counties.
"We think we are doing a pretty good job with very limited funds," Thomas said. "We provided funds for some 18,000 trips for people who wanted to go to medical appointments, shopping and the grocery store."
But much more needs to be done, Thomas said. The transportation problem is especially critical for elderly people in rural areas who are unable to drive. The lack of transportation options, especially in rural areas, keeps many seniors fighting to stay behind the wheel.
"Many of the older people in rural areas have to come to Peoria for medical reasons," Thomas said. "In this country, we need more funding for transportation programs for adults unable to drive.
"We also need to be more neighborly. Some churches, civic organizations and individuals volunteer their services to help provide rides for older adults and the disabled who can't drive. More of that is needed, too."
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