Former patrolman teaches AARP course for seniors

August 15, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

FAYETTEVILLE, PA. - A car going 35 mph will travel 44 feet from the time the driver thinks about stopping and shifting his foot from the gas pedal to the brake to the time the vehicle stops, Fred Ailes said.

Older drivers need more time to react, said Ailes, who teaches refresher, safe-driving and defensive-driving courses to people 55 and older in a program developed by the AARP.

Ailes volunteers his time, teaching about 10 classes a year. He said his average class size is 30 to 35, and the average age of those who take the classes is 65.


"It's a valuable program in terms of traffic safety," Ailes said. "There's not a lot of new information. The biggest thing has to do with what is happening to you as an individual.

"As we get older, depth perception, vision, hearing and reflex action begin to change. It happens to all of us."

Seniors often take medications with orders from their doctors not to drive. They drive anyway, Ailes said.

"They need to look in the mirror and ask themselves where they are as drivers," he said.

Ailes said about one million older drivers take AARP refresher courses nationwide every year. They run for eight hours, with classroom instruction only.

The course covers such topics as self-judging, physical changes, aggressive driving and road rage, safety considerations, vehicles and potential trouble spots for older drivers.

Two such trouble spots are intersections and left-hand turns, Ailes said.

"Intersections are the number one cause of fatalities in people over 65," Ailes said. "It's a question of depth perception and reaction time. They can't judge the speed of an approaching car."

Left-hand turns also are a problem for the same reasons.

"It's right-of-way failure," he said.

Interstate driving, with its heavy truck traffic, also is worrisome for seniors, especially at exits and merging areas, Ailes said. Statistics show that most accidents involving tractor-trailers are caused by other drivers who cut them off, Ailes said.

Older drivers often are intimidated by the big rigs, so they tend to stay fixed in one lane at one speed.

"I tell them, 'Get off the interstate,'" Ailes said. "You're retired. You have time."

Ailes recommends that older drivers choose mid-size cars, not sport utility vehicles or pickup trucks even if they think they'll feel safer in them.

Jeff Fisher, owner of the Jeff Fisher Insurance Agency in Chambersburg, Pa., is a regular sponsor of Ailes' classes. He said Ailes is an excellent teacher who draws many positive comments from his students.

Those who take the classes are eligible for a 5 percent discount on auto insurance premiums for three years provided they maintain a clean driving record, Fisher said.

Both spouses older than 65 in a household have to take the course to qualify, Fisher said.

A common misunderstanding among seniors is that if they take the course, they will be tested and, if they fail the test, they will lose their license to drive.

"There is no test," Fisher said.

Ailes and his wife grew up in Johnstown, Pa. He earned a teaching degree at the then-California State Teachers College in California, Pa. He taught U.S. history at a high school in Prince George's County, Md., before joining the Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department as a patrolman in July 1972.

Ailes rose through the ranks, retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1998 after 26 years on the force.

"You reach the point where it becomes time to move on," he said. "Police work is like having two families. I missed a lot of Christmases. Now, it's time for my family."

The Ailes, who have two married daughters, chose Franklin County because it's close to their seven grandchildren.

Ailes' next class is Sept. 24 at Quincy Village Retirement Community in Quincy, Pa. To enroll, call 1-888-227-7669.

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