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Safety For the Older Driver: Is Skills Training the Answer?

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MAY 3, 2004 VOLUME 11, NUMBER 44

Elder Law Issues addressed concerns relating to older drivers in two issues published in October, 2002 (“What Can Be Done About Driving Skills As We Age?” and “Dealing With Impaired Driving Skills in Aging Family Members“). Since then, much media attention has been focused on aging drivers, principally due to the tragedy caused by Californian George Weller, 87. In July, 2003, ten people died at a Santa Monica farmer’s market when Mr. Weller accelerated rather than braking at the crowd’s edge. In January, 2004, Mr. Weller was indicted on 10 counts of manslaughter.

In the last month discouraging news arrived with results of a study indicating that driver education programs may fail to make older drivers with functional impairments safer or prevent accidents. The study is reported in the April, 2004, American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Cynthia Owsley, Ph.D., MSPH, (Professor and Director of the Clinical Research Unit, Dept. of Opthalmology, University of Alabama, Birmingham) principal researcher for the study, examined drivers with certain visual impairments for a two-year period after they had high-quality skills training.

In a nutshell, Dr. Owsley was unable to find that the education programs in her study actually enhanced the older drivers’ skills. No significant crash reductions per mile driven were seen in those who participated in the educational programs as compared with other drivers of the same age. Owsley described the education programs used in her study as the “Cadillac” version of driver skills training because each study participant had one-on-one attention and the programs were tailored to meet participants’ individual needs. Dr. Owsley suggests that the benefits of driver education programs lie in the behavioral changes many older drivers make when made aware of driving challenges. These include reducing driving time, avoiding difficult situations (such as routes with many left turns and multiple turn-lanes, or trips in bad weather) and better self-monitoring of driving skills.

Unfortunately, many older drivers also have chronic diseases that may affect driving. Dr. Owsley says that older drivers “need to make sure that they get the best medical care to reduce the impact that their functional problems have on their driving. They want to go to a driving fitness clinic where a certified driving rehabilitation specialist can evaluate their potential risk and safety on the road.”

The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists boasts 550 members nationwide. A half dozen Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialists practice in Arizona, and their contact information appears on the organization’s website.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.