MARQUETTE - Teacher Don Balmer knew there would be one topic in particular on the minds of his students in the AARP Driver Safety Program being offered at Peter White Public Library in Marquette recently.
Right at the time the eight-hour class was being offered, Marquette's roundabout was opening. The new traffic configuration had been under construction during the summer and was creating some concern among drivers, not just those who are seniors, but of all ages.
Shirley Stagelein of Marquette gets ready to take notes during a driving refresher class for senior citizens. She said she has been driving for 60 years. AARP has offered a safe driving class for senior citizens for many years. It’s now called the AARP Driver Safety Program and provides materials for the seniors to take home. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Don Balmer leads a discussion during the AARP Driver Safety Program class at Peter White Public Library in Marquette recently. A former drivers education instructor in the Marquette Area Public Schools, Balmer has been teaching the AARP class for about 10 years. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Balmer had already put a large graphic on a chalkboard in the classroom at the library. But he had other topics to discuss as well.
Balmer has been teaching driver safety for years.
"I taught high school drivers' ed in Marquette for 30 years," he said. "When I hit 50 or thereabouts, I took this AARP course, which back then was called '55 & Alive' at that time.
AARP Driver Safety Program
Thursday, Oct. 28 and Friday, Oct. 29
Offered by Northern Center for Lifelong Learning at First United Methodist Church, Marquette
Discount for AARP members
For more information or to enroll, call 227-2979
"Then I took over, I took the training to teach the course," Balmer said. "And I have been doing it for about 10 years."
Balmer said he has particular reasons for teaching the class.
"I teach it because I'm selfish," he said. "I want to make it safer out there for older drivers because when I make it safer for them, I make it safer for me. This class helps people continue to driver safer for longer."
A wide range of topics would be covered in the class, he said.
"People know there are all sorts of changes in their bodies since they were teens, when they probably learned how to drive. We talk about how to compensate for these changes," Balmer said.
"And a lot of this is refresher stuff, stuff that they say to me, 'you know, I haven't thought about that in about 30 years,'" he said. "We hope to help people keep driving as long as they can drive safely."
The people enrolling in the AARP Driver Safety Program now include those who have taken drivers education courses as teens.
"When I first started teaching the class, I found very few people who had taken a drivers education class," Balmer said. "Now more and more of them have had that. But it was 40 or even 50 years ago."
Over the two days of the class, some specific subjects would be discussed.
"We talk about all the aspects of change," Balmer said. "We talk about the changes in cars. We talk about the changes in roads. We talk about the changes in traffic. We talk about the changes in us."
For Marquette resident Sharon Steinglein, roundabout was only part of the reason she enrolled in the class.
"I have been wanting to take this class for awhile," she said. "I always seemed to see the notice for the class when it was over. So I was glad to be able to get to one.
"I felt that at this point in time in my life, it was time for a class like this," she said. "I have had my drivers license for 60 years. I am 76 now and I was 16 when I got it. It was time.
"I don't do a lot of driving at night any more but I knew it would be good for me to have this class."
The new roundabout was the first topic Balmer touched on as the class started.
"I know a lot of you will have questions about it," he said to the class. "The most simple advice I can offer about the roundabout is to look to the left anytime you are going into the roundabout. The person who is already in it has the right of way.
"Roundabouts are statistically proven to be safer," Balmer said. "So people shouldn't be afraid of them."
Some insurance companies offer discounts for those who complete the AARP Driver Safety Program, Balmer said.
"You should check with your agent if you plan to take the class," he said. "And I will offer the class to any group any place who wants me to teach it."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.