Around the Island

Richard’s Almanac: Brush up on your driving skills

JULIE LANE PHOTO Cars, cars, cars.
JULIE LANE PHOTO  |  AARP’s Driver Safety one-day class was offered for seniors last week. The next class is December 5.

Do you remember many years ago when you took the written test for your driver’s license and one of the questions was, “How much space should you leave between yourself and the car in front of you?”

The answer we had to learn was “one car length for every 10 miles per hour you were traveling.”

Well, I learned last week that the answer has changed. The correct response is to “maintain at least a three second following distance to help avoid dangerous situations.”

This guideline is for dry roads at any speed. The idea is to locate a fixed point in front of you. When the car in front passes that point, count three seconds and if your vehicle passes the same fixed point after three seconds, you’re O.K.

I learned this and many other safe driving tips last Tuesday during the Driver Safety class sponsored by AARP at the Senior Center. There were some 20 participants in the day-long class that carries with it a 10 percent reduction in liability and collision insurance for three years.

The class is definitely geared towards seniors. It examines the changes in our bodies caused by aging and how these changes can affect driving.

Statistically, fatalities on the road go up after 70 years of age to 4.8 deaths per 1,000 crashes. Much of this is due to challenges for older drivers like making left turns at intersections, operating a car on a high-speed roadway and driving at dusk and dawn.

We learned that there are many medical conditions that can affect driving including strokes, sleep disorders, seizures and arthritis to name a few.

And what we’ve always learned about alcohol and driving applies differently as we age. As the body ages, its ability to break down alcohol decreases. Therefore the alcohol stays longer in an older person’s body.

According to the class, the only safe level of blood alcohol concentration is 0.00 for seniors who want to drive. Enjoy your martini at home and do not drive afterward!

The class also examined vision problems that come with aging like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. All should be checked by an eye doctor and corrected because they can result in driving dangers. Your visual acuity needs to be checked.

Additionally, hearing checks are in order as is a check of our abilities to combat fatigue and drowsiness. I know that at one time or another we’ve driven great distances without stopping except for gas and bathroom breaks. Those days are gone. If you’re driving to Florida, plan on  two or three nights at motels. It’s more restful and it’s safer.

The class also urged us to use some “self-limiting” strategies  like avoiding driving at night, at busy times or in bad weather. Making fewer trips and traveling shorter distances. Taking routes with lower speed limits and avoiding highways and challenging intersections.

Finally, looking for other ways to travel was examined including asking for rides from friends, family and neighbors, paying someone to drive, using public transportation and walking.

I recommend this class to anyone of a certain age. Many good nuggets. Call Laurie Fanelli at the Senior Center at (631) 749-1059 to enroll in the next class, which is December 5.