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COAST, CENTRAL, AND NORTHWEST CITIES : BUENA PARK

Older Drivers Stay on Course

Two-day class helps elderly keep their motoring skills sharp and learn how to adjust to their limitations.

May 26, 2000|ANDRE BRISCOE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Klara Woods walked into the Buena Park Senior Center with pen and paper in hand, ready to take notes on the first day of driving class.

"When a person gets to be our age, it's natural for them to forget some of the rules of the road," said Woods, a La Palma resident and retired bookkeeper. "The class is well worth the time."

Woods and 24 other seniors were there to take part in the 55 Alive Mature Driving class, a course for senior citizens developed by the American Assn. of Retired Persons.

Jim McCoy, a retired Long Beach Fire Department driver training instructor, has taught the course in Orange County for five years. McCoy said the course is necessary for today's seniors.

"Older drivers tend to do things slower," said McCoy. "That doesn't mean they're bad drivers, it just means it's important that they understand their limitations and review the different phases of driving. . . . They need constant refresher courses."

The nationwide program is designed to improve the skills of drivers 50 and older through an intensive two-day, eight-hour course. The program has received support from the American Geriatrics Society, departments of motor vehicles and transportation and more than 17 privately funded organizations throughout the country.

Participants study a nine-chapter booklet that details basic driving techniques. The course incorporates exercises for seniors to improve flexibility. Advice for drivers suffering from hearing or vision loss is given to help seniors cope with loss of reaction time.

Woods, who has taken the class twice, said older drivers should take the class as often as possible. "I really think seniors should take the class more than once to keep us aware of new driving rules."

After finishing the class, students receive a certificate of completion which allows them to receive a discount on auto insurance for up to three years.

"I'm mainly here because of the discount I'll get from my insurance company," said Ted La Chapelle, a retired physical chemist from Orange. "But I'm sure I need to brush up on rules and regulations."

McCoy points to student involvement with the class as the key to the program's success.

"The one thing I like to start my class off with is communication, because if we don't communicate in the class, then we won't communicate on the road.'

--Andre Briscoe can be reached at (714) 966-5848

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