Community: Modesto course for older drivers can make a real difference

columns@modbee.comJune 30, 2014 

  • Safe Driver Course

    Who: AARP and Doctors Medical Center

    When: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 28-29

    Where: Doctors Medical Center Conference Center, 1441 Florida Ave.

    Cost: $15 (AARP members), $20 (nonmembers)

    Contact: ( 888) 284-6641 (DMC Community Education)

    Details: Participants must be 50 or older and possess a valid driver’s license. After completion of the two-day course and receipt of certificate, some auto insurance companies provide a discount. For other class locations, see

“It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

– Former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver to The Washington Post.

So you think you are a good driver? I thought I was, but now I am a “wiser woman at the wheel” since completing the AARP Safe Driving class at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto. Even my husband, who thinks he knows it all, says he learned a lot.

John Wilson, a retired police lieutenant, has taught the class as an AARP volunteer for 46 years. Clearly, his cup runneth over in the knowledge, experience and commitment departments.

This course is designed to give safe driving strategies for aging drivers, and explain how to compensate for changes in our bodies (mental and physical) as well as changes in the laws, roads and even the vehicles we drive.

Wilson says so-called older drivers (those 50-plus) have been given a bad rap because “they cause crashes.” Not true, he says. It’s younger, more immature drivers who cause the majority of crashes. However, older drivers have the higher death rate because they do not recover as quickly and do not drive as many miles as younger drivers. They might be more frail, but Wilson attests that “older drivers are more experienced and more intelligent than younger drivers.”

Wilson presents strategies to encourage drivers to be confident rather than competitive. He explained how a good driver can avoid a crash even if the other person is at fault. He maintains that good drivers can go through life and “never scratch paint” if they constantly “scan” their surroundings, becoming aware of blind spots, situation changes (e.g., school zones, pedestrians, etc.), and eke out a “cushion” between vehicles to reduce unnecessary risks.

By avoiding crashes, you avoid injuries but also the cost of lawyers, too.

Wilson stresses that driving requires undivided concentration to get from Point A to Point B. Though many people think they can multitask while driving, this is absolutely not the case. Having a cellphone at your ear is illegal , of course, and according to a University of Utah study it is often more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol. Hands-free cellphones are legal to use, but Wilson says they are equally dangerous, according to the same study, because the distraction of the remote conversation often keeps the driver from seeing something on the road.

“Distracted driving” is one of the most common causes of collisions, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles handbook, and cellphones aren’t the only distractions. You often see drivers drinking coffee, eating, applying make-up, reading or sending texts, even brushing their teeth as they drive. Need I say more?

Those who take the class are provided with the AARP “Smart Driver Guidebook” and a current DMV handbook. Class participants are encouraged to share experiences and learn what they could have done differently in driving situations that turned out poorly. Wilson’s calm, patient demeanor creates a positive learning environment. He relates personal experiences from his years in law enforcement with appropriate humor and candor, and the two four-hour classes seem to fly by. (Staying within the speed limit, of course!)

Not only did this class validate some of my driving habits, but it increased my confidence behind the wheel and is causing me to “think different” and drive more mindfully. And incidentally, since taking this class, my husband now uses turn signals.

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