Training Offered For Senior Drivers

Next time you come up behind a poky older driver puttering along a back road or side street and your patience wears thin, here are some things you may want to consider.

One: Drivers 55 and older are involved in far fewer accidents and fatalities per capita than any other age group, new data developed by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission show. (The data do not show, unfortunately, the accident rate per miles driven.)

Two: “Drivers under age 30 have higher collision and fatal collision rates than older drivers.” That’s verbatim from the commission report.

And three: Increasing numbers of older drivers use back streets and byways because they are taught to avoid busy freeways and arterials in driver ed classes specifically designed to help people stay mobile as they age.

There are three such training programs in Spokane.

Retired teacher Adonna Yuse of Spokane instructs a class for the American Association of Retired Persons. Seniors attend two four-hour sessions. Total cost, $8. It’s all classroom instruction. No tests. Graduates receive a certificate entitling them to an insurance discount from most carriers.

“I know one couple,” says Yuse, “who had a $900 insurance bill for their three vehicles. They paid $8 each for the classes and got a combined discount of $90.”

Yuse, who studied to be a safe driving instructor while earning a teaching degree and who later worked as a driver-ed instructor, receives $20 for eight hours of classroom work as an AARP volunteer.

“We help people brush up on skills that make us better drivers as we age,” says Yuse. “That’s my reward.”

The AARP says it has 200 instructors statewide and has graduated more than 5 million drivers nationwide. The association is always looking for more instructors. Volunteers need not be as highly qualified as Yuse. The AARP trains its volunteers.

Peggy Hodges, traffic safety coordinator for the Spokane County Public Works Department, teaches classes sponsored by the Washington Traffic Safety Education Association. “I teach through the Senior Centers, and they do the scheduling,” she says.

“The main reason people take the classes is to get a reduced insurance rate,” Hodges says. “How much of a rate reduction depends on the insurance agency, but it’s generally 2 to 10 percent.”

Gary Zumwalt, assistant administrator of the State Driver Licensing Department, says, “Discounts average about 5 percent.

“It’s a win, win exchange,” he says of the discount for taking classes. “There are benefits all around - for the insurance industry and for drivers of all ages, because drivers ed programs for seniors reduce accidents and save lives.”

“These are wonderful programs,” agrees Jerry Haslett, district manager of driver licensing for the state. “We are happy to participate in these programs and explain how we operate. It helps take away the fear that, when a person gets old, we just come take away your driver’s license.”

To be sure, the more severely incapacitated do lose driving privileges. But others are merely confined to driving at certain times or places.

“A great many seniors realize they aren’t as capable and aware as they used to be,” observes Haslett, “and they tend to restrict themselves.”

In addition to AARP and the Senior Centers, the Inland Automobile Association (AAA) also offers a drivers ed program for seniors. The number to call there is 358-6921.

Esther and Edward Stewart took Hodges’ most recent class. The retired Spokane couple found it valuable in more ways than one. “Our insurance company said we will save $49 on our car and truck every six months,” Esther said. “That’s an extra $100 a year in our budget.

In exchange, they studied a book that is part of the course, and picked up a lot of safety tips. “We took a test on road signs,” she said. “They didn’t grade us. But the instruction served to refresh and refocus our driving knowledge.

“I would encourage anyone, whatever their age, to take the course.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

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