|Church helps senior adults brush up on driving skills|
Senior adults brush up on their driving skills and knowledge in the library of Alpharetta (Ga.) United Methodist Church, where the AARP Driver Safety Program
is taught by church member and certified instructor Ron Feldman.
UMNS photos by Ronny Perry.
By Fran Coode Walsh*
Aug. 10, 2007 | ALPHARETTA, Ga. (UMNS)
In a shelf-lined library at Alpharetta United Methodist Church, 20 senior adults gather around a table with workbooks and pencils for a quick tune-up on life-saving rules of the road that most learned first as teenagers.
Participant Sue Cook says she's gotten some "very good information" from the church's AARP Driver Safety Program course.
"It would pay (for) all the senior citizens to come and do this," says Cook, who is also a member of the suburban Atlanta church.
"It's not like it used to be when … our grandmother lived on the corner," says instructor Ron Feldman, 71.
The nation's first and largest refresher course for drivers age 50 and older, the program emphasizes how to operate your vehicle more safely in today's increasingly challenging driving environment and offers tips on how to adjust to age-related changes in vision, hearing and reflexes. Graduates can earn multiyear discounts from auto insurance companies in most states.
The United States has about 28 million drivers over the age of 65, according to the American Automobile Association. Traffic studies show that older seniors are nine times more likely to die in a crash than those ages 25 to 69.
Ron Feldman, 71, wants to do his part to improve those odds.
A member at the church and a certified instructor for the program, Feldman tells his students he has a vested interest in their success - literally!
"I tell them in the class, 'I want you to learn how to drive well not only to protect your life, but protect me - because I'm walking the streets, I'm driving the car, I'm out there on the road, too,'" says Feldman.
Never too old to learn
Open to drivers of all ages, the course costs $10 and consists of two four-hour seminars. Feldman has taught it five times at sites around Alpharetta such as the local hospital.
The purpose of the AARP Driver Safety Program, says Feldman, is "to have seniors recognize that their ability to drive changes from when they first got their license, in some cases 50 or 60 years ago. You're tested once to learn how to drive, and you're forever certified. Now the problem is you're not the same driver you were 50 or 60 years ago."
A driver's manual offers reminders about good driving habits including keeping proper following distance at all times and the safest way to change lanes and make turns at intersections. It also goes over the effects of medications on driving, limiting distractions such as smoking and cell phone use, and properly using safety belts, air bags and anti-lock brakes. Video clips illustrate safe driving techniques.
“The purpose of the AARP Driver Safety Program is "to have seniors recognize that their ability to drive changes from when they first got their license, in some cases 50 or 60 years ago.”–Ron Feldman
"We are driving bigger, heavier, faster cars and we are driving faster roads and multiple road capacity," says Feldman. "It's not like it used to be when … our grandmother lived on the corner, and two doors away were the one son and across the street was another and the drugstore was right around the corner and they could walk to the grocery store. Now you really feel more isolated if you can't drive because everything is so far away."
Pat Oxford says she learned a lot by taking the course, even though she's been driving for decades. "I was really amazed, but a lot of accidents are caused by left-hand turns and people thinking they have the right-of-way," she says.
Fastened securely in her gray Mazda 6, Oxford carefully looks left, then right, then left again before pulling onto a busy road in Alpharetta. A volunteer at a nearby hospital emergency room, she says the course definitely has changed her approach behind the wheel.
"I know the results of bad choices and bad judgments in driving. And I just think that every time you take it you learn something new," she says.
Adjusting for age
Cases of elderly drivers making costly errors often make the news, but Feldman says those reports shouldn't discourage seniors from driving. "I don't emphasize what we're losing as much as I emphasize … what you still have left and to take care of the stuff that you still have left … so that you continue driving," he says.
Edith Ennis studies the AARP safe
Knowing when to give up the keys is important, too, says Feldman, who peppers his presentation with personal anecdotes. He recalls how his own mother-in-law had a tense encounter on the highway while driving with her grandson in the car.
"She knew there was a tollgate there. But what did she do? She went through at 75 miles an hour. Well, it not only frightened my mother-in-law, but can you imagine the face of the person in that tollgate when she went through there? And … my son … was sitting in the passenger seat … hoping she would make it through those two gates."
The scare was enough to convince his mother-in-law to give up her keys. "Sometimes it does take one incident like that … to alter your vision on what's really safest," he says.
*Walsh is supervising producer of UMTV, a unit of United Methodist Communications based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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Alpharetta First United Methodist Church
AARP Driver Safety
Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries