WALNUT CREEK -- There are now 2.9 million people over the age of 65 in California, and studies show that group will grow to 6.9 million by 2040.
With the aging population come concerns in many areas, including driving ability.
As part of the California Highway Patrol's effort to help citizens with their driving skills as they get older, the Walnut Creek Library will host a class by the CHP as part of its Age Well Drive Smart program.
There are a lot of seniors in the community who have shown a lot of interest in programs like this, said Sarah Spindle, an adult services librarian. The class is open not just to seniors, but to families and those helping older drivers deal with the challenges of aging and driving.
While aging drivers may need help identifying the right time to limit or stop driving, CHP Officer Rafael Cervantez said the program also helps dispel myths about aging drivers, like the idea that all older drivers are high-risk drivers.
Learning tips for driving at night, staying away from freeways and inspecting a vehicle for safety can all help seniors stay on the road longer, he explained.
"Whether you're a good driver doesn't necessarily depend on age," said Linda Fodrini-Johnson, founder and CEO of Eldercare Services, Inc. But there are precautions that aging drivers should take, and it's important to know when it's time to stop driving.
"Often adult children step in, and the approach they take can make people resist," Fodrini-Johnson said. A class like the CHP's can help senior drivers evaluate themselves and take the necessary precautions to drive longer safely.
The session aims to help aging drivers identify their strengths and weaknesses, provides a student driver manual to review the rules of the road, provides a vehicle inspection list to help identify problems with their vehicles, and hosts a discussion for questions and answers with a CHP officer.
The program is funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, and the mission is to reduce the number of collisions involving senior drivers over age 65 by 5 percent in California, year over year, said Cervantez.
"My own mom died when she was almost 91, but her driver's license she could have had for another three years," said Fodrini-Johnson.
Her mother decided on her own to stop driving at 85, but not everyone's decision is so easy -- that's why, Fodrini-Johnson said, it's important to get educated and evaluate driving skills frequently as people get older, and to talk to geriatric advisers.
"One thing is that our bodies aren't toned," Fodrini-Johnson said of people -- like herself -- who are over the age of 60. "If you have an accident, you'll be more severely injured."
In suburban areas especially, she explained, seniors often feel isolated when they can't drive, as public transportation isn't as easily accessible as it is in urban centers.
For those who don't live in assisted-living situations with shuttles or don't have access to public transportation, a good option can be opening an account with a taxi service, which can often be cheaper than the maintenance, insurance and gas costs of owning a car that doesn't get a lot of use, she said.
"Isolation is such a fear when you can't drive," Fodrini-Johnson said. "None of us like to ask for help."
Still, it's important for older people to consider all the options for getting around, she said.
"Driving is a serious issue."
WHAT: Age Well Drive Smart class
WHEN: 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 10
WHERE: Walnut Creek Library Oak View Room, 1644 N. Broadway
INFORMATION/REGISTRATION: 925-977-3340 or www.wclibrary.org/event/drive-smart