June 21, 2018
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A risk behind the wheel? Lewiston-area seniors differ on additional testing for older drivers

Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Katherine Freund gives retired priest John Feeney a ride to church at Holy Cross in South Portland recently.
By Bonnie Washuk, Sun Journal

LEWISTON, Maine — As they met for cribbage at the Lewiston Memorial Armory recently, seniors offer mixed reactions to talk about changes aimed at ensuring they are safe behind the wheel.

“Don’t take my license away,” Don Maillett, 76, of Turner said. He’s driving and said he’s having no trouble, thank you very much.

Across the table another man said the problem isn’t older drivers. “It’s teenagers who shouldn’t be driving. I don’t want my name used,” he said. “I don’t know why people think seniors can’t drive. There are more accidents caused by young kids than seniors.”

Linda Williams said no changes are needed; seniors should be left alone. “They’ve worked all their lives. They’re trying to enjoy their senior years.”

Others said that at some point — maybe 75 or 80, maybe when there’s been an accident — there ought to be some kind of testing by AAA or the state.

Bert Chenard, 84, of Lewiston drives. His record is “very good,” he said. At some point people do need to stop, he said, bringing up “that 100-year-old who backed his car on two people in California. For him, no more driving,” Chenard said. “His license should be taken away.”

Chenard’s wife stopped driving because of failing vision, he said.

Jeanne Collette, 86, of Lewiston said she gave up driving about 10 years ago on her own.

“My reflexes weren’t that good,” Collette said. “It wasn’t because I had an accident. I didn’t. I wasn’t with it enough.”

Collette doesn’t have trouble getting around. Her friend and fellow bridge player brings her to the armory. “She a good driver. She has good reflexes.” Collette also has three sons who provide her with rides.

Her friend Constance St. Pierre, 82, of Auburn drives. “Keep your eyes on the road and look out for others,” St. Pierre advised, but not before complaining about today’s “terrible driving from young girls.”

St. Pierre said she could see the need for some kind of testing. “You get to be 78 to 80; it may be a good time to have a road test or some test with AAA.”

During an interview at his home, Richard Smith, 75, said he didn’t like the idea of any testing or the “Senior Driving Summit” scheduled for Nov. 2 in Augusta by Secretary of State Charles Summers and AAA.

“That’s how it starts,” Smith complained.

His wife, Joanna, 74, gave up driving because of arthritis and vision problems. He drives for both.

For years, people have been killed and maimed on the roads, he said. On Sept. 18 in Hebron a 19-year-old man crashed head-on into a school bus carrying students. “The problem comes from every age group,” Smith said.

In some ways seniors are better drivers, he said. “When you’re elderly you have a lot of driving experience. You are more cautious.”

He has avoided crashes more than once by watching others on the road, even when he has the right of way. At a four-way intersection, Smith said, he correctly suspected other drivers were going to ignore stop signs. “They breezed right by.”

Younger drivers are distracted, he said. Seniors don’t drive and text. “I don’t know how to text,” he said. “You don’t ever read about a car full of elderly people at 2 o’clock in the morning full of booze and drugs rolling over several times.”

Smith said he has had a couple of heart attacks. “Every so often I have to have the doctor fill out a form” that says he’s safe to drive.

“Last time I told the doctor, ‘You better check the right box, otherwise you’re going to have to come over and take my bride and I out a couple of times a week to get groceries,” Smith mused.

He can see a need “to check people out,” ensuring older drivers are safe. “I can appreciate that. It depends on how restrictive they get.”

For many seniors, especially in a rural state like Maine, elder transportation is a huge need, experts say. A lack of transportation can lead to isolation and depression.

Taking away a license, Smith said, “is removing their lifeline to get out and get the groceries. When you take that away, they lose an awful lot.”

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