When is it the right time to hang up the car keys? CHP, Humboldt Senior Resource Center aim to educate senior drivers

Eureka resident Mildred Mitchell, 87, said she has never wanted to stop driving but has thought many times about what will happen when the time comes when she'll have to hang up her keys.

"Driving is very important to me," Mitchell said. "I'm the kind of person who gets ready to go someplace, and I like to go and not wait on other people. I also realize that if I live long enough, there will be a time when my mind and body won't continue to work like it does now. If I were not aware of a need for me to stop driving, myself, I'm sure my family would be and tell me. It would be very hard to stop driving, but I would accept it."

A free class will be held Friday afternoon at the Humboldt Senior Resource Center in Eureka for senior drivers and their families, which will discuss how to drive safely for as long as possible, and when it is appropriate to quit.

Eureka Police Department Senior Traffic Officer Gary Whitmer said in his 19 years at the department, he has seen seniors involved in collisions that he thinks were maybe caused by some age-related issues, such as visual impairment and delayed reactions.

"There comes a time when we all get old, our skills diminish, and it's tough to hang up the car keys, because a lot of times a vehicle gives people independence," Whitmer said. "But you have to take risk factors into consideration, and there comes a time when safety is paramount, not only for yourself but for the community."

Michael Blackwell, nutrition and activities program manager at the Humboldt Senior Resource Center, said he thinks it's important to help dispel some of the myths about aging and driving during this class.

"Sometimes there's a lot of confusion about driving, and questions arise about how much senior people can still drive and when they should stop driving, and this class will try and address this," Blackwell said. "Another part of the discussion will be dealing with impaired drivers. Sometimes people take medications and may not be aware this can sometimes cause them to be under the influence while driving."

California Highway Patrol officers will be at the class to answer questions from seniors and their families.

"The goal for us is not to prohibit seniors from driving, but make sure they can drive as long as possible while remaining safe," CHP Officer Matt Harvey said. "Many of them have been driving for many years, and this is an opportunity for the California Highway Patrol to update them on recent laws that will keep them driving safer, longer and discuss issues regarding prescription medication and driving under the influence incidents. We'll touch on warning signs that show people it's time to permanently hang up their car keys."

Blackwell said there are very strong emotions involved when someone's car keys are taken away from them quickly.

"If people can make the conscious decision themselves, it's a much gentler way to go about these changes in life that sometimes happen," Blackwell said.

Harvey said he encourages all local senior drivers and their family members to attend.

"The California Highway Patrol has been offering this class for several years. We are bringing it back into the area and plan to give them on a regular basis," Harvey said. "We believe in this class. It's a great way to pass on pertinent information to help elderly people drive safer for as long as possible."

The California Highway Patrol encourages those interested in attending the class to RSVP by calling the Humboldt Senior Resource Center at 443-9747.

If you go:

What: Free senior drivers class

When: Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Humboldt Senior Resource Center, 1910 California St., Eureka

Jillian Singh can be reached at 441-0509 or jsingh@times-standard.com.

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