t seems as if it was only yesterday that we were teenagers sitting in driver's ed class.
The instructor — as harassed and harried as any substitute teacher — tried to get the attention of a classroom full of yapping and fidgety high school students much more concerned about when it was their turn to drive than learning the rules of the road.
They couldn't care less about blind spots and following distances and double yellow lines. Nope. They wanted to get behind the wheel and go. Push the pedal to the metal. Turn on the radio. Sling their arm out the window. Enjoy the freedom that only a set of wheels can bring.
Decades and decades later, those students are returning to AARP-sponsored driver's ed classes to refresh their skills, to learn what they didn't 50 years ago, to find out how the aging process affects their driving — and to get a discount on their auto insurance.
They've learned a lot in all those years. They know rude drivers. They know to not to be surprised by anything that happens on the road.
And, instead of pelting the instructor with erasers and wads of paper whenever he turns his back, they are actually interested in what he has to say.
CLASS IS IN SESSION
Older drivers tend to be better drivers, until the benefits of experience and confidence are overtaken by things beyond their control, such as loss of vision and hearing, slower reflex times and decreased mobility. Statistics prove it.
Drivers 50 and older — 25 percent of the driving population — account for only 18 percent of crashes. But the crash percentage increases for drivers 65 and older and even more for drivers 75 and older. In fact, when "miles driven" is factored in, drivers over the age of 75 are in as many accidents as drivers ages 16 to 24.
Enter AARP and its Driver Safety Program to help older drivers learn how to compensate for the physical changes that occur as we age.
Twelve people, ages 62 to 90, recently attended one of the AARP six-hour driving courses — two three-hour sessions over two days — at the Gulfport Senior Center. The reasons for attending are two-fold: to get a break on car insurance and to sharpen driving skills.
If paying attention to six hours of instruction on something you've been doing for 50 years harkens you back to the displeasure of those high school driving classes, don't worry.
The classes are designed to keep you interested. The instruction is interspersed with short video clips on topics such as Are You a Safe Driver, Understanding Changes in Vision and Hearing and even Flexibility and Upper and Lower Body Strength (to keep you in shape, improve your driving reflexes).
Volunteer instructor Alexander "Alec" Craig, in his fourth year teaching, kept the Gulfport class engaged. He had them take turns reading the important sections of the instruction book and frequently questioned them about their own driving practices.
His interest in the topic was contagious. He spent 28 years teaching; he knows how to engage students — no matter how old they are.
"I enjoy teaching this class," the 76-year-old retired minister who was born in Boston and lives in Madeira Beach, said.
"I'm continually fine-tuning my own driving skills.
"As we get older, our vision and health changes. Anything we can do to help people drive safely is important."
Patti Ewald can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746.