On Thursday, about 13 senior motorists started a two-day refresher course on the rules of the road.
Carol Heck, a volunteer instructor for the American Association of Retired Persons, coached the drivers through a driver safety program geared for older motorists. Along with a typical defensive driving curriculum, the course is designed to help seniors recognize and cope with changes in eyesight, hearing, reaction time and limited flexibility.
The rate of fatal accidents increases markedly for motorists above age 70. Elderly motorists have a higher rate of death in traffic crashes than any age group except for teenagers, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
"As you get older and as your body ages, there are limitations," Mrs. Heck said. "As long as you pay attention and recognize (those changes), then there are ways to compensate to extend their driving life as long as possible."
Seniors should get in the habit of stretching their necks, shoulders, arms and legs to increase their range of mobility to make it easier to twist to see while backing up.
As reaction times slow, seniors should also increase the distance between their vehicles and those ahead of them. According to AARP, that distance should equate to three seconds from the time the lead vehicle passes a fixed object until the tailing vehicle passes.
Mrs. Heck also recommended that seniors get their eyesight and hearing checked regularly. She said vehicles should also be maintained so they are operating as safely as possible.
Evelyn Atkinson, 79, of Beech Island, said she was taking part in at least her eighth senior driving course. Completion of the course makes attendees eligible for a discount on their automobile insurance, but Mrs. Atkinson said she had other reasons to finish the program.
"I think it's helpful," Mrs. Atkinson said of the class. "There are a lot of changes, a lot of things are different than they used to be."
Driving on multilane highways and urban congestion are just two of the many changes Mrs. Atkinson said she has had to cope with since she started driving along rural two-lane roads many years ago.
The AARP Driver Safety Programs are available periodically throughout the Augusta area. For more information or to find a class, call (888) 227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org/drive.
Reach J. Scott Trubey at (706) 823-3424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.