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DRIVER SAFETY: Aging Iowans brush up on driving skills

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In Iowa, people age 65 and older make up about 17% of the drivers on the road, but they`re involved in about 24% of all accidents

Now many older drivers are taking it upon themselves to brush up on their skills behind the wheel.

“Yesterday I could have had a fatal crash. I was looking to my right and didn't pay any attention to my left coming out on to a very busy street,” said Jim Hudson of Ankeny.

For many seniors, Hudson’s story is all too familiar

“The car was going too fast but still I’m the one who pulled out in front of her,” he said.

It was one of those split second decisions that he knows, at age 75, may only get harder.

“We are aging. I mean I’m not the same as I was 20 years ago. I know that,” said Hudson.

Caesar Smith knows that too after nearly losing his elderly mother to a car accident.

“Your reaction time is not the same. Your depth perception is not the same,” said Smith.

Now in his seventies himself, he's working to help other seniors be aware of their limits.

“It is so important that seniors be willing to consider not driving,” said Smith, who serves as one of about 40 volunteer trainers in AARP’s Driver Safety Program.

“One of the things that we do in the class is cover all the things that they need to be aware of, and hopefully the light comes on,” he said.

Each month they offer classes to remind people about the rules of the road.

“I don't recall having anyone come to class who didn`t' believe that they were really good drivers so that`s the challenge for them. You're good but you're slower now than you used to be at being good,” said Smith.

Among the biggest hang-ups for seniors he says yielding the right of way and left hand turns. Looking both directions can also be an issue like it was for Hudson.

“We teach them some exercises they can do because it’s one thing to say look to the left and right but as you get older you might look to you right and realize I can't turn that far anymore ,” said Smith.

But tips and exercises can only go so far.

“I really try hard in my classes to convince people to think about should I still be driving,” said Smith.

Iowa ranks second only to Florida in the percentage of licensed drivers over the age of 85, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“It’s tough because it’s the last of the independence for a senior and I think that's why subconsciously they don't want to give it up,” said Smith.

Anne porter knows first-hand how difficult that decision can be after going through it with each of her parents.

“I know it was more difficult for my dad to give up his driver’s license due to age than my mother,” she said.

As the head of a home care service agency, she says the driving safety class has given her ways to help her staff and clients manage that transition.

In fact people of any age can take the AARP class. M any insurance companies may even give you a discount if you do.

This month AARP is working to honor veterans and their loved ones. All veterans, active duty military personnel and their families can take the driver safety course for free. All others enrolling with pay $14 dollars for class, or $12 for AARP members.

To find a class near you call 515-697-1022 or go to:     www.aarp.org/drive

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