Story and photos by IAN SMITH
We’ve all been in this situation: we are driving and then we get cut off or start tailing another car and we get frustrated. You don’t have to think hard because most people automatically think it’s an older driver.
So you slam on the brakes and press the horn as you fly around the car. You might give them a gesture or something of that nature.
“It provides the focus on the important thing that driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day,” said Paulette Welch, Utah state coordinator for driver’s safety in a phone interview.
The four-hour classes aren’t held on a specific schedule. It varies depending on the demand for classes, which are held at different senior centers all around Utah.
The price for a class varies depending on membership. It’s $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members. It also offers an online version of the class that costs members $17.95 and non-members $21.95.
The number of participants also varies. Laura Polacheck, communications director for AARP Utah, said there may be as few as two students in a certain class or as many as 30.
“It’s a safety concern, and it’s difficult because people want to keep their independence,” she said in a phone interview. “That shouldn’t be the prevailing reasons to keep their keys.”
The classes consist of a lot of questions. This helps instructors, who are certified to teach the course by AARP, find out where participants may be lacking in focus or skill. For example, do they place their hands on the steering wheel correctly? When a pedestrian is in the cross walk and you need to turn, when can you go?
Polacheck said aging adults hit the point where they don’t see problems that others may see. They may ignore stop signs and other road signs. As a result, they may receive tickets or have an accident. She said people develop bad habits but no one informs them. Also, they don’t see the problem because they are so used to what they’ve been doing for so long. “We really ask them to reflect,” she said.
The class reviews the safety of the road and aspects such as reaction time and vision. Instructors also teach participants about new technology that can help them keep their keys in their possession.
“We talk about changing vehicle technology,” said Welch, the state coordinator for driver’s safety. “Many of them know less than younger drivers do.” In fact, she said, people are often surprised by how much they don’t know.
Welch said participants have a great reaction to the class and think more carefully about driving before they get inside of a car. All the information that pours into their ears makes them better drivers once they leave.
Another reward for taking the class is that some insurance companies offer discounts on policies.
“It’s a bit of an incentive,” said Polacheck, AARP Utah’s communications director. “You might not think about signing up for a safe driving course. Insurance companies believe it works otherwise they wouldn’t give the discount.”
However, AARP also recognizes that some older adults are unable to drive safely or consistently. It encourages those individuals to consider alternate mode of transportation.
“You don’t process the information the same [as you age],” said Peter Hebertson, information and referral program manager of Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services.
Hebertson said it can be difficult for people to give up driving because it affects their independence. This will become an even greater problem as Utah’s population ages.