The AARP describes its driver safety class as the nation’s first and largest classroom course for motorists age 50 and older. The eight-hour course involves videos, lectures and quizzes from the AARP Driver Safety participant workbook.
It also relies heavily on reacquainting participants with the state’s official driver’s manual.
“This is not just AARP, this is the law,” Ed Butner, volunteer AARP Driving Safety Course instructor told a recent class at North Wales Area Library NWAL.
Butner, a Montgomery Township resident and NWAL board member, has brought the course for the second time at the library, teaching approximately 10 participants. Their course was broken up into two classes: four hours on Feb. 26 and four more hours the following day.
The AARP course has eight units, exploring safe driving strategies and the rules of the road, while keeping in mind the unique effects of aging and driving.
“We teach you how to be a safer driver as you go through the normal process of aging,” Butner said.
As an ice-breaker at the beginning of the class, Butner asked participants how long they have been driving. The experience ranged from 47 – 58 years on the road. He then emphasized the importance of being able to drive.
“They don’t build communities where you can walk out your door and walk out to the grocery store,” Butner said. “We have to take public transportation or most of us have to drive.”
To Thine Own Self Be True
While the subject wasn’t scheduled until the second day of classes, one of the first questions asked was when would it appropriate to give up the keys?
“That’s a tough one,” Butner told the class. “I don’t know how many folks would drop their driving privileges willingly.”
Some participants gave suggestions, such as involving a knowledgeable family physician, however Butner proceeded with the second unit of the course, “Knowing Ourselves,” providing a foreshadow of what the best answer to that question may be.
In this unit, Butner discussed and showed AARP videos demonstrating the effects of aging on our physical abilities and how such development may affect driving abilities. In this unit, the class discussed:
- Reaction Time
- Physical Fitness/Flexibility
- Medications and Alcohol
For vision and hearing, Butner asked the class to become aware of the natural loss of both senses, particularly with vision as ailments such as glaucoma and macular degeneration are often associated with advanced aging.
The AARP Drivers Safety workbook cites statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which states that motorist deaths by traffic crashes increase with drivers over 75 and older, as compared with middle-age drivers.
“Driver deaths are markedly higher after age 75, due in part, to our bodies being less able to recover from the forces involved in a crash.” - the AARP Driver Safety workbook.
Butner, who gave a relaxed and easy-going delivery in his lecture, reminded the class that by taking care of their physical well-being, their physical abilities to drive may be prolonged and the quality of their driving may be preserved as they continue driving into their golden years.
“Or platinum years,” Butner joked.
He said that older drivers should regularly meet with their doctors, and not be shy in using necessary tools, such as eye-glasses and hearing aids.
Butner also said to use judgment before getting behind the wheel, saying that if it’s too difficult to take long trips, don’t; or if it’s difficult to see at night, drive during the day.
For drivers with arthritis, the AARP Drivers Safety workbook provides certain exercises to help strengthen and stretch key areas of the body commonly used in driving.
However, Butner was emphatic to explain, if an individual is not able to quickly turn their heads to check for blind spots, it may be time to relinquish the keys.
Unit 7, “Judging Our Driving Fitness,” of the AARP Driving Safety workbook, provides participants with tips and advice on having others assess their driving as well as self-assessment. The workbook provides several warning signs of unsafe driving that may indicate a physical and memory problem that would impair driving abilities.
Just a few of the 17 listed warning signs:
- Not using signals correctly
- Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
- More frequent close calls
- Scrapes or dents on car, garage or mailbox
According to Butner, the AARP course is a popular program of the AARP, and those who complete the course also have the opportunity to work with their insurance companies for a discount.
The course also going into detail about certain hazardous road conditions, such as highway driving, tips on right-of-way and merging, and interacting with bicyclists and pedestrians.
Trudi Bruni, a North Wales resident, took the course for the first time at the library. She said her husband, Fred, takes the course every three years, as both travel the long distance to visit their grandchildren in Maryland. While she wasn’t thrilled at having to sit through an eight-hour course, she said she appreciates the drivers safety lessons.
“I wish they could give this to younger people,” Bruni said.