Older Driver Safety Awareness: Helpful tips for driving safely while aging well

December 5, 2018 | 9:19 am


They are our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. They are also the wisest among us.

Still, our senior citizens many times depend on us to watch out for them, and this is especially important when it comes to driving a motor vehicle. For Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, observed in December, make it a point to talk to your older loved ones about driving safety.

“Everyone should have the freedom to travel as they see fit as long as they are able to do so safely, and make sure others around them are safe as well,” said David K. Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Last year, California saw more than 3,400 fatal collisions in 2017, according to the California Highway Patrol. Drivers aged 65 and older were involved in nearly 14 percent of those crashes. Nationwide, the number of people 65 and older killed in traffic crashes made up 18 percent of all traffic fatalities.

With increasing age come changes in physical, mental, and sensory abilities that can challenge a person’s continued ability to drive safely. Family and friends play a major role in identifying changes in driving behavior and beginning discussions about older driver safety. It is important to start these conversations early and discuss any needed changes in driving habits before it becomes a problem, allowing older drivers to be actively involved in the planning.

Getting older does not necessarily mean a person’s driving days are over. But it’s important to plan ahead and take steps to ensure the safety of your loved ones on the road.

Bringing up the subject of their driving abilities can make some drivers defensive. Answering the following questions, courtesy of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, may help you decide if you need to initiate a conversation with an older driver about driving safely:

  • Getting lost on routes that should be familiar?
  • Noticing new dents or scratches to the vehicle?
  • Receiving a ticket for a driving violation?
  • Experiencing a near-miss or crash recently?
  • Being advised to limit/stop driving due to a health reason?
  • Overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving?
  • Taking any medication that might affect driving safely?
  • Speeding or driving too slowly for no reason?
  • Suffering from any illnesses that may affect driving skills?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might need to talk with your loved one about safe driving. Read this guide from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to help you along the way.

Now, if you’re an older driver, you can also assess how changes can affect your driving. The following questions will help you decide if physical changes have affected your driving skills. Helpful tips about coping with these changes are also provided so that you can remain a safe driver for as long as possible.

  • How is your eyesight? Do you have trouble reading signs easily; recognizing someone you know from across the street; seeing street markings, other cars, and people walking, especially at dawn, dusk and at night; handling headlight glare at night? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Make sure you always wear your glasses and that the prescription is current. 2) Keep your windshield, mirrors and headlights clean. 3) Make sure that your headlights are working and aimed correctly. 4) Sit high enough in your seat so you can see the road at least 10 feet in front of your vehicle. 5) If you are 60 or older, see an eye doctor every year.
  • Do you have control of your vehicle? Do you have trouble looking over your shoulder to change lanes; moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal; turning the steering wheel; walking less than a block a day; going up or down stairs because you have pain in your knees, legs or ankles? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Check with your doctor about physical therapy, medicine, stretching exercises, or a walking or fitness program. 2) Know that an automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and other special equipment can make it easier for you to drive your vehicle and use the foot pedals.3) Reduce your driver’s side blind spot by moving your mirrors. 4) Watch for flashing lights of emergency vehicles. 5) Listen for sounds outside your vehicle.
  • Does driving make you feel nervous, scared or overwhelmed? Do you feel confused by traffic signs, and people and cars in traffic; take medicine that makes you sleepy; get dizzy, or have seizures or losses of consciousness; react slowly to normal driving situations? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Ask your doctor if your health or side effects from your medicine can affect your driving. 2) Take routes that you know. 3) Try to drive during the day (avoid rush hour). 4) Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead of you. 5) Always scan the road while you are driving so that you are ready for any problems and can plan your actions.
  • Are loved ones concerned? Sometimes other people notice things about your driving that you might have missed. Have people you know and trust said they were concerned about your driving? If you said “Yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Talk with your doctor. Ask him or her to check the side effects of any medicines you are taking. 2) Think about taking a mature driving class. The AAA, AARP and driving schools offer these classes. 3) Try walking, carpooling, public transit, and other forms of transportation.

CHP also offers free, two-hour “Age Well, Drive Smart” courses throughout the year. Through this program, seniors can sharpen their driving skills, refresh their knowledge of the rules of the road, and learn how to adjust to typical age-related physical and mental changes.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a motor vehicle accident at the fault of someone else, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Older Driver Safety Awareness: Tips for the safest journey while behind the wheel

December 6, 2017 | 9:17 am


It’s a fact of life — we grow older every day. And with each year that passes comes changes in our physical, mental and sensory abilities that can be a challenge for some, especially our senior citizens.

The ability to drive safely can also be affected by changes in our physical, emotional, and cognitive health — changes that are a part of normal aging, but occur at different rates and times for people.

During “Older Driver Safety Awareness Week,” which is observed this year from Dec. 4–8, Chain | Cohn | Stiles would like to provide some tips and information to make driving as safe and enjoyable as possible for our older friends, neighbors and loved ones.

By 2025, a quarter of licensed drivers in the United States will be 65 or older, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Today, this age group accounts for about 20 percent, or 40 million, of all licensed drivers, according to Federal Highway Administration.

Older Driver Safety Awareness Week aims to raise awareness about the safety issues older drivers face while remaining active members of their communities. For many senior citizens, it’s important for them to remain active in the community — shopping, working or volunteering — while remaining confident that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home.

During this time of year, families often come together for the holidays, and one of the first steps in addressing older driver safety is having a conversation with our loved ones. Consider sharing these seven suggestions for the safest journey (courtesy of DMV):

1) Your Health is No. 1

Schedule regular appointments with your physician to monitor pain or stiffness in your joints. This may affect your ability to control the steering wheel or turn to look into safety mirrors. Diabetes, seizures, and other conditions could affect your safety on the road. It’s best to discuss your driving options with your doctor before operating a vehicle. Fatigue can be a problem depending on the length of your trip. If your stress levels are high, driving could aggravate any other health conditions you may have. It’s best to speak with your doctor about lowering your stress levels before you drive, especially if you are at risk for any heart-related health conditions.

2) Schedule Hearing and Vision Tests

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, always have them while driving. Be aware of conditions that might be affecting your vision, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. If you feel like your vision is worsening, consult with your optometrist. Recognize signs of trouble seeing at night — you may need to stick with daytime driving only. If you have problems hearing other vehicles or emergency sirens when you drive, get a hearing aid. Keep the noise inside the vehicle to a minimum, and this includes music and conversations with your passengers.

3) Be Realistic About Your Limitations

It’s important to be aware of and honest about any limitations that you find yourself up against, so that you can be proactive about making the necessary adjustments to ensure your safety, and that of all other drivers around you. Some of these adjustments can include increasing your following distance to allow yourself more reaction time when it’s time to hit the brakes. Also, use the brakes early. When you first see that a stop sign, red light, or other obstacle is approaching, begin braking early. This will help you to avoid the need for a hard brake at the last minute. Avoid busy areas — when there’s a lot happening at once, your awareness of your surroundings will suffer. Try to find alternative routes with less traffic congestion. Lastly, try to anticipate rather than react. Scan as far down the road as possible. This will help you plan your course of action instead of having to react suddenly.

4) Check Your Medications

For each of the medications you have been prescribed, be sure to read the label carefully. If it states that you should not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking the medication, do not drive. If there is nothing on the label, but you feel as though your mental or physical abilities are altered when taking the medication, contact your doctor and report the effects you’re feeling.

Also, ask the pharmacist about the medication when it’s prescribed. If the medication is known to affect driving ability, the pharmacist may be able to adjust your dosage or recommend a time of day when it’s best to take them. And avoid driving if you feel drowsy or lightheaded.

5) Adjust Your Driving Position

By adjusting the position of the driver’s seat, you can make it easier to reach the steering wheel, see your side mirrors, recognize obstacles down the road, control the vehicle, and reach the gas pedal and brake.

To help, keep the steering wheel at a comfortable but significant distance from your chest. If the steering wheel is too close, it could result in an injury should an airbag deploy. Raise the height of the seat so that your eyes are a few inches above the steering wheel. Do this by adjusting the steering wheel itself, adjusting the height of your seat, sitting on an additional seat cushion, if necessary, moving your side mirrors to avoid blind spots, or raising or lowering the headrest so that it is directly behind your head.  Consider a pedal extension if you have difficulty reaching the accelerator or brake.

6) Avoid Dangerous Conditions

Try to avoid inclement weather, night driving and rush hour commutes. It’s more difficult to control your vehicle, and your visibility is limited in bad weather. Additionally, dark surroundings give you less time to see, process, and react to your environment. Rush hour adds an increased number of cars on the road, coupled with impatient drivers, which can be one of the most dangerous times to drive for seniors.

7) Take a Mature Driver Course

Brushing up on your driving skills and refreshing your memory as it relates to the rules of the road can boost your confidence and help you stay safe while driving. Enroll in a senior driving course to learn defensive driving techniques, state-specific laws related to safety belts, cell phones, road signs, traffic violations, and making right-of-way decisions

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If you or someone you know is injured in a motor vehicle accident at the fault of someone else, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit against Bakersfield convalescent hospital after patient’s fall, death

August 2, 2017 | 8:03 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a lawsuit against Valley Convalescent Hospital in Bakersfield on behalf of the family of an 80-year-old patient who died as a result of neglect at the facility.

Robert Hopkins fell from his bed in February while housed at the facility after a nursing assistant failed to ensure a guard rail was properly set. He suffered a fracture in his vertebrae below the skull, spent a week in the hospital, returned to Valley Convalescent Hospital on Feb. 28, and died the following day.

The California Department of Public Health determined Hopkins’ death was a result of his fall. The Department fined the facility $100,000 and it received the most severe penalty under California law (Class AA Citation). Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed an elder neglect and wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Hopkins’ family.

“The purpose of filing this lawsuit is to prevent these types of tragedies from occurring again in the future,” said attorney Neil K. Gehlawat. Chain | Cohn | Stiles announced the filing of the lawsuit during a press conference, streamed live by KERO-23, ABC. “Valley Convalescent and other skilled nursing facilities need to understand that if they drop the ball when it comes to patient safety, there will be consequences, and those consequences will be severe.”

Valley Convalescent Hospital has had a long history of complaints for elder abuse and neglect. Since 2012, the California Department of Public Health has recorded nine complaints of patients falling, and has taken action against the facility 15 times since 2006, according to reports. Valley Convalescent has been fined more than $160,000 since 2003. This year, it has received eight complaints, and the Department has found 28 deficiencies, reports show.

The family of Robert Hopkins hopes to prevent future similar incidents in Kern County. The Hopkins family is being represented by Neil K. Gehlawat and Felicia Schoepfer-Altmiller of Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

— By Michael Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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VALLEY CONVALESCENT FINES, PENALTIES COVERAGE

LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE