Joann Kirkham, 73, was returning to her Bethpage home from the grocery store a few years ago when her car was rear-ended. As the paramedics pulled Kirkham from the vehicle, they peppered her with medical questions.
Distraught, Kirkham thought about her damaged car and the ruined groceries in her trunk but struggled to answer basic medical inquiries.
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So when Kirkham heard about a program that would allow emergency personnel to look at medical and personal information that drivers store in their glove boxes, she knew she wanted to get involved.
Kirkham worked with the AARP chapter in the Gallatin area to initiate the Yellow Dot Program in Sumner County in 2008.
Participants fill out a form that asks for vital medical information as well as emergency contacts. The paperwork is placed in their cars' glove boxes, and a yellow dot decal is affixed to the vehicle's rear window to let emergency personnel know to look for the documents in a crisis. The dot goes on the frame of a motorcycle.
"It's like insurance," Kirkham said. "You buy insurance, but you hope you never have to claim it."
Now the program is set to expand statewide.
Under a bill Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed into law in the spring, the state Department of Transportation is expected to have the forms available as soon as this fall.
State officials plan to promote the free program at driver testing centers and through civic groups.
State Rep. Curtis Halford (R) introduced legislation to take the Yellow Dot Program statewide after his wife read about the program in the AARP Bulletin last summer.
Halford said it was the easiest bill he's ever brought before the legislature. It passed both chambers unanimously.
"I just thought it was a really, really good idea," said the 69-year-old legislator from Dyer, who plans to put a yellow dot on his own car.
"If you have an accident and you're incapacitated, then the emergency personnel are going to know a lot of facts about you that could save your life," he said.
The law, which took effect in April, calls for the state Department of Transportation to work with law enforcement agencies, emergency responders and other groups — including AARP — to implement and publicize the Yellow Dot Program (PDF).
The form will include the person's name, photo, emergency contacts, medical information, hospital preference and physician. Information about other drivers and passengers can also be included.
Halford said anyone can participate in the Yellow Dot Program, but it's especially geared toward older drivers and people with disabilities.
AARP Tennessee supported the bill. Shelley Courington, associate state director for advocacy, is working with Department of Transportation officials on the program rollout.
Keith Douglas, director of Emergency Medical Services for Sumner County, said that "with the yellow dot, we can better fine-tune the treatment and medication we can provide. It just makes it easier to make sure that your care is personalized."
In Sumner County alone, more than 10,000 yellow dots have been distributed since the program began about four years ago, said Kirkham, who travels across Tennessee to promote the program. She's hopeful that the response to the Yellow Dot Program will be even more positive now that the state is involved.
"The highway is a dangerous place," Kirkham said. "I feel very secure that if I had an accident, I would be treated [effectively] much more quickly because of it."
For ideas on promoting the Yellow Dot Program, visit the AARP Tennessee website or AARP Tennessee's Facebook page.
Michelle Diament is a writer living in Memphis, Tenn.
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