VA Tests Ability of Older Drivers to Motor Safely
Wills, Rick, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
For about 90 minutes, Eatilo Pellegrini displayed his driving skills by skirting around kids on bikes, maneuvering around a crash scene and meticulously stopping at every red light and stop sign.
"I think it went OK. It was just like driving. I felt like I was on the road," Pellegrini, who turns 90 in December, said about the driving test he took earlier this month on the VA Butler Healthcare's new virtual driving machine.
Pennsylvania imposes no age restrictions on driving -- only Illinois and New Hampshire require drivers older than 75 to automatically take a road test. Yet the desire for independence many elderly drivers have often clashes with public safety concerns, medical and transportation officials say.
"You can be 101 and still have a driver's license in Pennsylvania. There is no clear-cut factor to look at in terms of stopping driving," said Shawn Houck, a safety official with PennDOT who has run a variety of programs to help seniors adapt to life without a car.
The VA began its driving rehabilitation program and bought the machine late last year. It is one of several programs in the region developed during the past decade to test older drivers.
The program helps patients develop skills who need special vehicles, such as those with hand controls or a left-foot accelerator.
"Our program works with veterans to see if they are still safe to drive a motor vehicle," said Jill Umstead, an occupational therapist who conducts on-road tests at the VA and will test Pellegrini this week.
Pellegrini, who stopped driving at night a month ago, said losing his driver's license would severely limit his life.
"How are you going to get food and that kind of thing? How am I going to see my lady friend? I'd have to call a cab for everything," said Pellegrini, a retired cook and railroad worker who served in Iran during World War II, has outlived two wives and still lives in his own home.
Sharon Bopp, an occupational therapist at Butler VA, said many people fear becoming a burden on their families. …