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Steering clear of trouble

Course gives mature drivers chance to brush up on skills

Course gives mature drivers chance to brush up on skills

June 28, 2007|By TAMELA BAKER

Driving in Maryland - or in most places, for that matter - just isn't what it used to be.

There's more traffic, there are changes in traffic laws and changes in the vehicles themselves.

And as we age, "your reflexes get slower," notes Alvin Jones, 87, of Smithsburg.

For all those reasons, Jones and his wife Karol periodically take the AARP Driver Safety Program offered through the Washington County Commission on Aging.

In fact, they've taken the course four times.

"I think it's a must for every driver," Alvin Jones said. Although he said he saw the course as more of a refresher of what he already knew, Jones, 87, said such refreshers help to shake drivers out of their complacency.

"You do form a habit if you're on the road for a long time," he said.

"You're not sharp on the rules anymore," said Rose M. Jankowski, 67, of Frederick, Md., another graduate of the course.

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"You have to be very sharp today; it seems like more people in their 80s and 90s are driving," she said.

The course is offered monthly at various locations. For a $10 fee, students learn how normal changes in vision, hearing and reaction time associated with aging can affect their driving. They also can learn techniques for adjusting their driving habits and receive a review of driving rules and safety strategies.

Kathy Freese of Greencastle, Pa., learned the hard way that "failure to yield" can bring serious consequences. After being involved in such an accident, Freese took the course and learned that failure to yield was one of the most common causes of accidents.

"The only reason I took the course was to knock 5 percent off my insurance premium," she confessed. But "I found it really interesting," she said. "I hadn't had driver's ed for 40 years."

Now, she said, "I'm much more conscious of what I do when I'm driving."

Instructors and locations vary, but the course's focus remains the same - giving mature drivers the tools they need to stay safe on the road.

Topics include driving in adverse conditions, blind spots, adjusting for slower reaction time, driving in heavy traffic, the affect of medications and other factors that impact driving.

New driving regulations and modifications and improvements to vehicles are discussed as well, said Joseph Jankowski, of Frederick.

Jankowski, 70, and his wife have taken the course three times, he said.

Learning "tidbits here and there" to improve driving and meeting other people in their age group keep them coming back.

"And you get to tell horror stories" from the road, he added.

The result?

"I've been more cognizant of what's going on around me," Jankowski said.

Freese, who describes herself as "just about 58," said her instructor spoke at length about road rage.

He'd written "FIDO" on the board when the class began, and didn't explain it until later, she said, causing students to wonder whether a dog might be involved

But FIDO stood for "forget it and drive on," the instructor explained, urging students to avoid road rage incidents.

"He said, 'Don't ever rise to a person baiting you when you're driving."

Sometimes, she confessed, she finds herself repeating the phrase when another driver behaves badly. "I think it probably would be good to print it out and put it on my dashboard," she said.

Rose Jankowski said she leaned to leave more space between herself and the vehicle she's following to allow for more response time.

Alvin Jones said his instructor stressed the importance of letting other drivers know what you're going to do.

All said they would take the course again.

"I had gotten lax about looking over my shoulder," Freese said.

She said she's also more careful now about approaching intersections, adding, " I agree completely that seniors cause a lot of accidents."

The course was "very thorough," Rose Jankowski said, but at some point, she said, she'll stop driving.

"You gotta know when to give up that driver's license. That's just my opinion."

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