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Virginia Yates of Boone, an active octogenarian, still drives to the senior center and enjoys the
freedom of independence.
Photo by Tabitha Thomas

Originally published: 2013-07-15 11:45:58
Last modified: 2013-07-15 11:45:58

Senior Center to host AARP driver safety classes

by Sherrie Norris

Approximately 3 million drivers in North Carolina are 50 years of age or older and about half of that group is at least 60 years old. 

Although senior drivers accounted for only about 9 percent of crashes in 2011, they are nearly three times more likely to die in a crash than younger people. 

Because of those statistics, Marion Manigo, state coordinator of AARP driver safety classes for older adults, announced that a class will be held in Boone from 8:30  a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, July 19.

In 2012, more than 2,500 senior drivers across the state participated in 250 classes taught by 85 driver safety volunteers, Manigo said.

"Ninety-nine percent of those class participants reported changing at least one driving habit as a result of taking a class," she said. "The biggest lure for seniors taking the class is the real possibility of staying independent and accident-free for the remainder of their lives."

Also, she said, some auto insurance companies will offer a discount to persons who have completed the session. 

"The AARP Driving Class is great," said Tabitha Thomas, director at the Lois E.Harrill Senior Center, "because it serves as a refresher course for older drivers and keeps them up-to-date on current traffic laws." 

Driving is a means for people to stay independent, Thomas added, "So, it is a good thing if older adults can continue to safely drive and are provided with the tools and resources to do so."

When driving is no longer an option locally, transportation to and from the senior center is offered through Appalcart, as well as to places around town for shopping and errands, Thomas said.

Local seniors on the road

Virginia Yates of Boone is an active octogenarian who still drives to the senior center, Thomas said.At 86, Yates enjoys the freedom of not depending on others to go from one location to another, but she doesn't venture far from home and she uses extra caution when she pulls out of her driveway.She drives her 1993 Toyota Camry to church and around town, she said, but she doesn't drive out of town.

And, she's not sure if she needs to take the upcoming driver's class. 

"I've never had a thing against me  -- an accident, a ticket or anything like that -- and I've been driving since 1965," Yates said. "I drove off the mountain one time, as far as Lenoir, but I had my brother in the car with me. I could drive anywhere I want to go, but I don't. Sometimes, I take the AppalCart."

She admits that she doesn't get in a hurry on the road and wishes younger drivers had more patience with her and others like her. 

"They'd push me out of the way if I didn't go on," she said. "A lot of people just shoot right out in front of me. ... It's not safe to be out, anymore."

According to information provided by AARP's Steven Hahn, there are several reasons why senior drivers should take the driver safety course. 

"Because driving has changed since you first got your license and doing so could save you money," he said. 

A driver safety course will remind seniors of current rules of the road, defensive driving techniques and how to operate their vehicles more safely in today's increasingly challenging driving environment. 

Other things to learn:

• How to minimize the effects of dangerous blind spots• How to maintain the proper following distance behind another car• The safest ways to change lanes and make turns at busy intersections• Proper use of safety belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, and new technologies used in cars• Ways to monitor your own and others' driving skills and capabilities• The effects of medications on driving• The importance of eliminating distractions, such as eating, smoking, and cellphone useThe class in Boone will be taught by Kathy L. Powell from North Wilkesboro who has been a district coordinator, trainer and instructor for the AARP Driver Safety Program for the past six years.  

"I volunteer for this program because I feel very passionate about saving lives," Powell said. "And, if a four-hour refresher course can help, I am all for it."

The class will be held at the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center located at the Watauga County Project on Aging building, Suite A, 132 Poplar Grove Connector, in Boone.

It is open to all seniors with a cost of $12 for AARP members and $14 for nonmembers. AARP cards will be required for verification. Coffee, water, and a light snack will be provided. 

For more information or to reserve a seat, call the senior center at (828) 265-8090.