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Sonoma County classes examine 'Too old to be driving?'

Folks who need a little help — and who wouldn't? — broaching the subject to an older loved one that it might be time to hang up the car keys can find it at a series of upcoming seminars around Sonoma County.

The six presentations, which begin Wednesday night and are titled "We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers," are designed to help families understand the issues and prepare for conversations likely to prompt high emotion, organizers said.

But with an aging population, the need for such discussions is inescapable, and the potential risk for avoiding them too great, they said.

A breakdown for Sonoma County was not available, but California had more than 71,000 licensed drivers aged 90 and older in 2011, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

As baby boomers enter their senior years, "that number is going to probably triple, so we are going to have a lot of older drivers on the road," said Dean Brittingham, transportation coordinator at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center and an organizer of the seminar program.

With age may come restricted movement, diminishing eyesight, deteriorating judgment, slowing reflexes or other ailments that impact one's safety behind the wheel.

Many drivers make adjustments on their own or attend safe driver programs to help understand how they can compensate. And experts say there is no set age at which someone should stop driving.

Two recent, high-profile accidents locally highlight the concerns raised by older drivers, including one in which a 68-year-old Rohnert Park man struck and killed a Sonoma State University professor on his bike and never even stopped to check on his condition.

In another recent case, an 82-year-old Santa Rosa man reportedly chased down a cyclist in his car and knocked him off his bike near Oakmont.

Attorneys in both cases, now in criminal court, have raised questions about the mental fitness of the two drivers.

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