Course drives home the basics |

Course drives home the basics

Things have changed since many of us older folks got our driver’s licenses eons ago. Cars are safer overall, and that’s a good thing. But speed limits are higher and there’s more traffic on the roads out here in rural Colorado. But most importantly, we’ve changed. Mentally and physically we’ve become a bit slower in our later years.This week a handful of seniors at the Rifle Senior Center got some worthwhile tips on defensive driving at an AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) Driver Safety Program. The two-day, eight-hour course last Thursday and Friday was taught by Ron Jensen of Battlement Mesa.”It’s a refresher course,” Jensen said. He covers “how the roads have changed and what’s changed with us, our eyes and ears” and the kind of skills we need to adjust “to those changes,” he said.”Your reaction time slows down about three-tenths of a second as you get older,” he said. “Some times the difference between an accident and not an accident is a half second.”Jensen teaches the “Three Second Rule” for older drivers. The Colorado driver’s license manual recommends drivers keep a two-second distance between themselves and other cars. “That’s three seconds for seniors and if the weather’s bad, more,” he said.He also teaches a technique called scanning, or looking down the road in front and behind to be aware of what’s happening. “If you’re driving in town you look a block ahead not just at the vehicle in front of you. On the highway its a quarter mile ahead or more,” he said, “so you’re aware of everything out there and if something happens you can react. It’s about keeping a safe zone around your car.”A lot of what he teaches in the course is common sense, “but people don’t think about their driving,” he said. The course gets people to think.It also covers physical changes that happen as we age, including hearing loss and loss of visual acuity, and how drivers can compensate.Perhaps the most difficult part of the class, Jensen said, is helping older people how to decide when to stop driving. “It’s a very sensitive issue because (driving) represents freedom,” he said.People who are aware that their driving skills are no longer what they were can be restricted driving to daylight hours or take short trips, perhaps only to the grocery store.He also asks some pointed questions whose answers can indicate that an older driver is no longer safe on the streets. These include “Do you have frequent close calls? Do cars appear out of nowhere?”Those are “little clues,” he said, to problems that can only get worse with time.Jensen, who retired from the Bureau of Reclamation said he brought his experience in taking required defensive driving classes over the years to the class, which he taught for the first time last week.While the class is open to people of any age, state law mandates that only people over 55 who take the class are entitled to a discount on their motor vehicle insurance, he said. The amount of discount differs by insurance company and location.Marie George, who is the director of the Rifle Senior Center, took the class this week. “It was wonderful experience,” she said. “I enjoyed it immensely.”George said she learned some things she hadn’t known before. She learned it’s a state law that if you see a state trooper and another car pulled off to the side of a highway you must signal and go around in the left lane.”To me it was so beneficial to update myself on things you take for granted when you’re driving,” she said. “It just makes you more cautious. The information is just awesome.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext.

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