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Brush up on your driving skills

(ran LT, CTI)

All of us cherish a feeling of freedom when we're behind the wheel of a car. That sense of independence never changes as people age. But the body does _ in ways that diminish driving skills and increase the likelihood of an accident.

Natural physical changes, which often start to accelerate past age 55, may include a narrowing of peripheral vision, slower reaction time or a decline in hearing acuity. Such factors contribute to older drivers having more fatal crashes per mile driven than any other age group except teenagers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

That's why it makes sense for senior drivers to tune up their skills, as growing numbers are doing, by taking the 55 Alive/Mature Driving class sponsored by AARP. This eight-hour course _ open to drivers age 50 and over _ is presented in two half-day sessions. Students 55 and older who complete the course may be eligible for an auto insurance discount for a three-year period. There are no tests to pass.

Following is a list of class locations in your area. Most of them are presented on a monthly basis year-round. Early registration is important since many classes fill up weeks ahead. Call the number listed for each location. These classes are conducted by AARP trained volunteers. If you would like to volunteer or for further information, call (813) 576-2895.

July schedule

July 8 & 15: Mease Manor, 700 Mease Plaza, Dunedin; 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; call 867-4101 to register.

July 10 & 11: Top of the World, 2069 World Parkway Blvd. E, Clearwater; 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; call 867-4101 to register. (Residents only)

July 10 & 24: Morton Plant Resource Place, 510 S Belcher Road, Clearwater; 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; call 462-7463 to register.

July 11 & 12: American Red Cross, 624 Court St., Clearwater; 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; call 446-2358 to register.

July 11 & 13: Palm Harbor Senior Center, 1015 Omaha Circle, Palm Harbor; 1-5 p.m.; call 784-7035 after 1 p.m. to register.

July 11 & 18: Mease Health Center, 27001 U.S. 19 N, Countryside Mall, Clearwater; 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; call 734-6564 to register.

July 13 & 14: Church of the Isles, 2408 Bay Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach; 1-5 p.m.; call 595-1038 to register.

July 13 & 14: Inn at Freedom Square, 10801 Johnson Blvd., Seminole; 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; call 398-0379 to register.

July 17 & 19: Dunedin Senior Center, 330 Douglas Ave., Dunedin; 1-5 p.m.; call 530-5340 to register.

July 19 & 20: Largo Public Library, 351 E Bay Drive, Largo; call 585-4074 to register.

July 19 & 21: Seminole Public Library, 9199 113th St. N, Seminole; 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; call 393-5988 to register.

July 20 & 27: Barbee Towers, 1100 Druid Road, Clearwater; 1-5 p.m.; call 867-4101 to register.

July 24 & 25: Tarpon Springs Community Center, 400 S Walton St., Tarpon Springs; 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; call 785-3866 to register.

July 25 & 26: Largo Medical Center, 201 14th St. SW, Largo; (night) 5-9 p.m.; call 536-2356 to register.

Fee for course $8. Make checks payable to AARP. Bring your driver's license to the first class.