Older drivers get rules of the road refresher course - September 4, 2015

Courtesy of The Post-Tribune

By Gregory Tejeda • Post-Tribune

September 4, 2015, 7:20 PM

Some 17 automobile drivers — 17, to be exact — who are getting up in age spent a few hours this week taking a course that not only advised them on the safest ways to operate their cars, but also gave them a chance at an auto insurance discount.

AARP officials have a safe driver course designed for their members, those 50 and older. The course was made available at the Methodist Hospital in Gary, and will be offered Oct. 20 at the hospital’s Southlake campus in Merrillville.

Hospital spokeswoman Evelyn Morrison said officials were pleased to be able to offer the course and to have a waiting list of people who want to participate.

Smart Driver instructor Jeanette Pike said her primary purpose was to make people who have been driving cars for decades realize there are changes to which they need to adapt.

“They need to learn how to keep driving safely,” she said. “There are strategies that will keep them safe.”

People who participate in the AARP course can show proof of their involvement in the daylong program and give it to their insurance companies. That enables drivers to qualify for discounts on the amount of money they have to pay for their auto insurance.

“That’s probably why we’re all here,” said Charles Johnson, a Gary resident.

William Coward said he was amazed to learn of some things that have changed since he learned to drive decades ago.

“They used to teach us to drive past big trucks as fast as possible,” he said. “Now, we’re being told we should avoid them as much as possible.”

Another change, as pointed out by Pike, is that drivers used to be told to keep one car length of space for every 10 miles they were driving between themselves and other drivers. Now, they’re being told to keep three seconds of space between.

While Cheryl Horton said she never had noticed one thing pointed out during the course: Signs that advised motorists approaching a railroad crossing exactly how many tracks they would have to cross before being safe.

Pike said that is a feature unique to Indiana, in that some other states merely erect signs saying there is a railroad crossing without saying how extensive it is. “You can have someone driving through thinking one train has passed, only to get hit by a train on another track,” she said.

Pike said one difference between Illinois and Indiana laws concerns use of devices to send and receive text messages. She said Indiana law prohibits drivers from texting unless the device is in a hands-free holder. Illinois law prohibits any use of the device while driving a car.

“That’s something I’d like to see come to Gary,” she said.

Jamie Erow, a public information officer for the Porter County Sheriff’s Department, said police do not notice significant difference in safety of drivers because of age.

“They’re as safe as the average citizen” Erow said, “unless there’s a medical condition involved, in which case the doctor can advise them on precautions to take.”

Pike disagreed.

“Of course there’s a difference. We don’t react as quickly as we used to be able to,” Pike said. “Maybe it means older drivers are taking extra precautions to compensate.”

When people should quit driving a car? Pike said that’s a hard question to answer, because some states don’t define an “older driver” until age 85, and there is no set standard for what constitutes someone too impaired by age to operate an automobile.

“There’s no one test that says someone can’t drive well,” she said, adding people need to make that decision for themselves. “You want to approach older drivers the same way you want to be approached when you get old.”

“It’s going to happen to all of us.”

Gregory Tejeda is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.