AARP works to educate senior drivers

By Mickey Winfield: Freedom New Mexico

The numbers are alarming when it comes to senior drivers:

• 6,512 seniors (65 years old and older) were killed in traffic accidents in 2005 — 15 percent of all traffic fatalities. Experts predict that number will swell to 23,000 annually by 2030.

• 79 percent of fatal accidents involving seniors occurred during the day.

• 40 million seniors are predicted to be driving in the year 2020.

AARP is doing its best to educate the burgeoning number of seniors in Roosevelt and Curry County by offering safe driver classes.

The classes are usually held on a Tuesday and Wednesday morning near the end of the month. The next class in Portales will be Aug. 19-20 at the community services center.

According to the AARP Web site, the driver safety program is the nation’s first and largest refresher course for drivers 50 years and older. The course has been in existence since 1979.

The program claims to have graduated more than 9 million seniors since its inception.

“It’s devoted toward having people aware of the knowledge that their faculties are diminishing,” said area program coordinator George Lees.

Lees has been helping Clovis and Portales senior drivers for several years and said that as people age, all of the critical senses for driving, (vision, hearing, reaction time) all fade.

“In recognition of that, we’ve set forth in the program ways to compensate for that,” Lees said. “(Like) taking more time, being more realistic about driving and not chit-chatting while you’re driving.”

Mike Kelly, the state-wide coordinator of the program, said the margin of error for seniors is much smaller than everybody else.

“It’s extremely important in the sense that a lot of times older drivers fall into the same bad habits as younger drivers, but our seniors have reduced reaction time,” he said.

The program is also likely to cut insurance premiums.

According to the AARP, a typical savings on car insurance could be $25 or more.

The eight-hour class consists of two four-hour segments.

“There’s no final exam and no testing,” Lees said.

Students earn a certificate that entitles them to a discount on their liability auto insurance for a period of three years, according to Lees.

One part of the class, Lees said, deals with seniors staying off the road all-together.

“That is the final chapter (of the class),” Lees said. “The assignment at the end of the first day is to turn to page 100 and it asks people to think in terms of what can they do about being mobile without driving. What are the resources available in their community.”

Lees said seniors should think about alternatives to driving themselves, such as family or friends, or public transportation.

Information: George Lees at 742-2271.