Older drivers offered refresher class by AARP HOWARD COUNTY SENIORS

January 20, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

Some of the 28 students who filled a classroom at the Florence Bain Senior Center last week were returning to a topic ** they hadn't studied in 50 years: how to drive a car.

But accident prevention and a chance to reduce their insurance premiums were motive enough to participate in the two-day class, sponsored by the center and the American Association of Retired Persons.

The course, "55 Alive," is so named because research indicates that physical changes and car accidents accelerate after drivers turn 55. The course costs $8.

"It's sort of a refresher course," said Frank Van Order, a 72-year-old volunteer instructor who retired as principal at Running Brook Elementary School in 1982. He has been teaching the program for two years to various church groups and at senior centers throughout Maryland.

"The program consists of classroom things [about driving] like traffic rules that most people already know, but [many] could benefit from an update on the information," he said.

The class also addresses physical changes that affect the older driver, accident prevention, interacting with traffic and adverse driving conditions. About 45 million drivers -- 30 percent of all those on the nation's roads -- are 50 or older, according to the AARP. That figure will increase significantly by 2000.

"If we are basically in good health, we feel that we are OK and changes can be very gradual," Mr. Van Order said.

Many older drivers are confronted with physical problems that can impair their ability, Mr. Van Order said. Diminishing night vision, limited peripheral vision, slowed reflexes, loss of concentration and fatigue are among them. A National Safety Council report says such impairments mean that drivers who are 55 or older have more accidents per miles driven than middle-age drivers. The class emphasizes how to improve driving ability when physical changes take place.

Older drivers are advised to:

* Have periodic vision examinations, allowing an adjustment period to get used to new glasses.

* Check glasses periodically to be sure lenses and frames are properly adjusted.

* Keep contact lenses clean.

* Avoid eyeglass frames with wide heavy side pieces that restrict side vision.

* Keep headlights, taillights and turn signals clean and adjusted; windshields and rear windows should be clean.

* Wear good quality sunglasses.

* Use rearview and outside mirrors often and be aware of blind spots.

* Practice frequent head and eye movement to reduce fatigue on long trips.

* Avoid driving at dawn or dusk when it is most difficult to see.

Mr. Van Order said older drivers generally do not commit such traffic offenses as speeding, drunken driving or reckless driving. Most problems result from situations that require quick response, full vision and interaction with other drivers. Common violations are failure to yield right-of-way and improper turning.

Through discussion and a workbook, 55 Alive students become aware of such problems and learn to adapt. When students complete the program, they receive certificates from the AARP that may help them receive a discount on their auto insurance premium.

Ferne Collins, an "over 66" resident of Columbia, joined the class for two reasons. "I get 10 percent off of my insurance," she said, adding that she wanted to learn about changes since she took driving lessons.

The classes provided more though, she said. "I hadn't thought much about peripheral vision, and I will check on that," she said. She feels a bit more comfortable as a mature driver now.

"I learned that drivers over 55 are not that bad; we want to learn more so we can continue to be good drivers," she said.

DRIVING TIPS FOR SENIORS

* Have regular medical checkups.

* Avoid driving in stressful traffic situations.

* Drive in familiar areas.

* Keep a sufficient distance from the car ahead.

* Concentrate on the whole traffic scene.

* Don't drive when emotionally upset.

* Take medication in prescribed amounts and at specified intervals; keep medication readily available.

* Avoid driving after surgery until medically cleared.

* Avoid prolonged hours of driving.

* Don't drive when not feeling well.

* Have a passenger accompany you to help navigate.

Source: American Association of Retired Persons

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