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Driving refresher

AARP course offered through NCLL gives older adults the latest on rules of the road, cars, tech and more

From left, attendees of the AARP Smart Driver course offered by the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning are pictured as they listen to Don Balmer, a driving instructor with the AARP Smart Driver program. The course involved eight hours of class time split between Wednesday and Friday to allow attendees to brush up on their driving knowledge. This is especially important for older adults, Balmer said, as driving, roads and associated technology have changed greatly over the past decades, and as people age, their driving may be impacted by physical changes and medications.

MARQUETTE — With older adults experiencing significant changes in roads, cars, technology and even their personal health since initially getting their driver’s license, it can be important to refresh and revisit driving knowledge, even with decades of experience.

Due to this, the AARP Smart Driver program aims to provide drivers who are over 50 with the tools to continue driving safely. A course of this type was offered through the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning on Wednesday at Northern Michigan University, with the second half of the course to be held Friday.

Attendees had a chance to learn from AARP Smart Driver instructor Don Balmer, who has taught many AARP Smart Driver courses over the years in the central Upper Peninsula.

Offering these courses is important, Balmer said, as it covers “practices that will make us safer,” as well as “things that make it so we can drive more safely and keep driving longer.”

The course aims to cover a wide variety of information related to driving safely as a person ages, such as current rules of the road, new technology, defensive driving techniques, managing and accommodating age-related changes in vision, hearing and reaction time, and much more.

“It’s about changes. It’s about the way we change, it’s about the way the roads change, it’s about the way the cars change,” Balmer said. “So we’re going to look at all of those things and talk a little bit about how you can compensate for some of these changes if you’re having problems.”

One example of a locally-relevant change the course covers is how to properly handle roundabouts, which have become increasingly common in Marquette County over recent years and have presented confusion for some local drivers.

“When the roundabout first came in there down in south Marquette, I had people who were going — I don’t know how many miles — out of their way to keep from going around the roundabout,” Balmer said. “Well, statistically roundabouts are a real safety device and if you can learn how to use them, they’re a real good deal.”

Balmer also covered some basic strategies, such as timing out driving to avoid rush hour, or, as he referred to it in the Marquette area, “rush minute.”

“If you know a certain time of day is busy, wait 15 minutes and go then,” he said. “Strategies can be things such as having a route to get yourself to or from someplace that avoids some of the traffic.”

The course also addressed the potential impacts of medications on driving, and the course guidebook provided attendees a form to list their medications and bring it to a pharmacist or doctor who can advise them on potential interactions and effects on driving.

During the course, participants also had a chance to learn and reflect upon some questions about how long people can remain safe drivers as they age.

“One of the questions that periodically comes up is: ‘What age should somebody stop driving?'” Balmer said. “There’s no set age because it depends on you.”

Balmer also covered a difficult subject: how to bring it up to a loved one that you are concerned about their driving.

“First off, tell them you’re concerned about his or her well-being and try to let the person preserve their self-respect,” he said.

After that, Balmer recommends asking the person to consider having a formal driving assessment, as this is available in the Marquette area. It’s also important to “be supportive of changes the driver has already made and explain the availability of other travel options,” he emphasized.

AARP Smart Driver courses are offered by Balmer at locations throughout Marquette County, such as the Marquette, Negaunee, Ishpeming and Forsyth Township senior centers. Balmer is also available to offer a course upon request, he said.

For those who can’t attend a local in-person course, an online course is also offered by AARP.

According to AARP, the online course offers information on: reducing driving distractions; research-based strategies for safe driving; techniques for navigating left turns, right-of-way and roundabouts; state-specific rules and regulations regarding construction zones, child safety seats, school busess, cellphone use and other topics; effects of medications on driving; proper use of new technology found in today’s cars, as well as information on more common automobile features such as safety belts, air bags, anti-lock breaks

The course offers the same content as the in-person course, delivered in an online format that participants can complete at their own pace over a 60-day period, according to AARP. The online course is available to AARP members at $19.95 and non-members at $24.95.

For more information on the in-person and online courses, as well as safe driving tips, visit: https://www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/driving-skills-refresh/

To learn more about the NCLL and its upcoming programming, visit www.nmu.edu/ncll/home.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.