Alternatives for elderly drivers in New Canaan
Earlier this month, a 72-year-old New Canaan man faced vehicular manslaughter charges for allegedly striking and killing a motorcyclist in town last fall. Nextdoor in Darien, an 89-year-old man turned himself in after allegedly hitting and severely injuring 15-year-old pedestrian on Hoyt Street. He claimed he didn't know he hit anything until he saw the accident reported in the paper the next day. And, later that week, an 87-year-old man sustained minor injuries after rolling his car over on West Avenue in Darien.
According to Darien Sgt. Jeremiah Marron, who investigated the Darien hit-and-run, assessing the abilities of senior citizens to drive safely is often a difficult call.
"Today, I'm seeing a larger number of elderly drivers on the road," Marron said, citing the large population of baby boomers becoming senior citizens. "When you talk about withdrawing or seizing their license, it is an extremely sensitive topic ... you're basically taking away their freedom."
There are no laws in Connecticut requiring additional written or road tests for drivers over the age of 65.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the majority of older American drivers will outlive their driving ability by about seven to 10 years.
Often, this places the weight of the driving decision on families and loved ones, according to Jennifer Millea, associate state director of communications for AARP Connecticut.
"It's an issue that families nationwide are struggling with, and it can be a very sensitive and touchy topic," Millea said. "AARP encourages families to talk openly with their loved ones about safe driving practices."
There are several warning signs that can trigger the need for discussion with loved ones, including frequent close calls or near accidents, traffic tickets or warnings, and noticeably slower response times, Millea said.
"When people see those signs and have concerns, we recommend talking openly with loved ones," she said. "It's important for the person to know that you're coming from a place of ... love and concern for them and their safety, because it's hard; especially now when so many people live in the suburbs and there aren't a lot of transportation alternatives. Giving up the keys is a big deal.
"In many cases, it can mean giving up your freedom and independence, and it's not meant to be taken lightly," she said.
In New Canaan, the Getabout provides low-cost alternative transportation services for elderly and disables residents.
Getabout transports residents to in-town destinations and to medical appointments in Norwalk, Darien, Stamford and Wilton. Residents commonly use the service for trips to shopping destinations, local medical officers and day programs at Waveny Care Center, Lapham Community Center, the YMCA New Canaan branch and the New Canaan library.
There is a suggested donation of $3 per ride, and medical appointments are free, McDonald said. Each in-town ride costs Getabout $17 each way; out-of-town rides cost Getabout $26 each way, according to McDonald.
According to Getabout dispatcher Ray Guthke, approximately 800 New Canaan residents utilize Getabout services each month.
"The reservations are all based upon space availability," Guthke said. "We need a minimum of 24-hours advance notice, and while technically we run Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., sometimes we are all booked by 3. p.m. ... We've gotten so busy that we're booked every single day at 3 p.m. and often we're fully booked by 7:30 a.m. It's difficult."
He added, "We try to fit in everyone and we also don't press anyone for anything because we are a charitable organization. If someone is having trouble paying the $3 suggested donation, we don't get excited about it."
New Canaanites can make arrangements for Getabout transportation by calling 203-972-7433.
Norwalk Transit also provides low-cost inter-town transportation to New Canaan residents, McDonald said.
"Most of our seniors do not ride on Norwalk Transit," she said. "Some of our residents with disabilities tend to use it more, but most of our seniors use the Getabout. The biggest difference is that Norwalk Transit runs on Saturdays and Sundays, but for day-time medical appointments, most of our seniors would use Getabout."
Waveny Care Network and Staying Put in New Canaan also provide transportation opportunities for members, McDonald said.