FAIRFIELD — At 71, Vallejo resident Ram Shamarao notices the effects of aging on his driving abilities, though nothing yet to keep him from getting behind the wheel.
“As I grow older, I’ve seen my vision, my ability to distinguish colors and objects, becoming strained,” he said. “I think sooner or later I’ll prefer not to drive at night.”
But he’s still active, playing golf and walking. He has a business. He’s working to keep his mind and body in shape, which helps with driving.
He and other senior California Highway Patrol volunteers helped to put on the “Age Well, Drive Smart” workshop at the Fairfield Senior Center on March 19. Almost 40 seniors attended.
Senior volunteer Richard Clements asked the gathering why driving is important.
You’ve got to get somewhere, a woman said to laugher.
Clements took the thought even further.
“Driving also reflects our independence, lifestyle and, in some cases, our self-image,” he said.
The class talked about vision. Ninety percent of the information for driving comes from the eyes, Shamarao said.
“The other day, I was on Interstate 80 and it was getting dark,” he said. “Suddenly, I see a bumper in the middle of the lane.”
Such instances mean having to change lanes quickly – but first, one must quickly see the danger.
The class talked about hearing, which is important for hearing sirens from emergency vehicles.
It talked about prescription medication. Shamarao advised reading labels. Some labels state that people shouldn’t drive after taking the medication.
“Prescription drugs can affect your driving,” Shamarao said. “If it affects your driving and you’re pulled over, it’s similar to a DUI.”
He turned to California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Parker.
“Absolutely,” Parker said.
Talk turned to making adjustments. Volunteer Ken Courville said senior drivers, as they notice their driving abilities declining, might decide to drive only on local streets.
“As I get older, I tend to stay in the right lane,” Shamarao said.
At some point, the time might come when seniors must stop driving altogether. Courville mentioned such warning signs as getting lost, getting confused, hitting the curb, denting the rims, drifting into other lanes.
“Giving up the keys can be devastating to some people,” he said. “It gives up part of your independence.”
Seniors need to be honest when evaluating their driving abilities, Courville said. They should talk with friends and family and other older drivers. They should have discussions before the issue becomes pressing.
He recalled how his mother-in-law lost her peripheral vision. The family asked her doctor to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles and her license got taken away.
“She hated that doctor,” Courville said. “She never went back to her. At least she didn’t hate us.”
Most seniors monitor themselves and stop driving when the time arrives, he said.
Clements at age 68 is still able to drive. He needs glasses for close-up vision, but his far vision remains clear.
“So far, so good,” he said.
Parker said the goal is to offer the “Age Well, Drive Smart” workshops every few months. The next one could be in May, with a date and time yet to be announced. People can call the CHP at 428-2100 for more information.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.