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Safe-Driving Tips for 50-Plus

Insurance firms may offer discounts

Frank Kormos, of the AARP Driver Safety Program in Texas, tells prospective attendees they will learn tips to help save lives, and it may be their own.

Frank Kormos, 96, of Richardson, is an enthusiastic marketing specialist for the AARP Driver Safety Program courses, which he taught for many years. The classes are geared to people over 50 but are open to all ages. — Photo by Todd Spoth

Frank Kormos knows how to get people's attention when he suggests they take an AARP driver safety class. He says it's all about saving a life.

"You always mention it may be your own," said Kormos, 96, of Richardson.

See also: Why take a driver safety course?

A longtime former instructor in AARP's Driver Safety Program, he's an enthusiastic cheerleader for the classes, which are open to all ages but geared to drivers age 50-plus.

Each year, trained volunteers teach nearly 500,000 course participants safety tips and enable them to refresh their skills in the AARP classes across the nation.

Texas has more than 15 million drivers, with nearly 6 million of them age 50 and older. Last year, nearly 24,000 Texans enrolled in the AARP Driver Safety Program. Now AARP Texas is finding new ways to expand and reach other motorists.

The four-hour classroom course is offered in Spanish and English. Work is under way to provide even more Spanish-language courses later this year, said Henry Hernandez, 70, of Fort Worth, the program's Hispanic coordinator for Texas.

"Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group in our population. We're going to pick up quite a bit of steam," he said.

To do that, more bilingual instructors are needed, said Gus Cardenas, AARP Texas driver safety coordinator.

In addition, as the outreach to Spanish speakers increases, coordinators are looking for more host sites in Hispanic communities, Hernandez said.

One reason many drivers take the course is to receive an auto insurance premium discount, which can be as high as 10 percent. But discounts for taking the course aren't required in Texas; drivers need to check with their insurers.

Next: Compensating for age-related changes in vision. >>

Attendance does not erase traffic tickets or points on your license. The purpose of the class is to keep drivers safe by updating them on traffic rules and helping them compensate for the physical and mental aspects of aging.

As people age, they may lose some hearing or peripheral vision and have slower reaction times. Night driving can be especially perilous, Cardenas said.

Some rules of the road have changed since older drivers got their first driver's licenses, and today's cars have new features they may be unfamiliar with.

"We make them feel like they can still be on the road, but you have to be extremely careful," said Cardenas, 79, a past president of AARP Texas.

Roy Ball, 69, an instructor and coordinator in the San Antonio-Austin area, emphasizes strategies such as keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front, scanning the road and walkways and staying alert to the most likely places for a crash in an intersection.

Wilma Oliver, 79, of Universal City, attends the course every three years to keep her insurance premium discount.

Oliver had always thought she should place her hands in the 10 and 2 o'clock positions on her steering wheel. But in one of Ball's classes in late May, Oliver learned to position her hands slightly lower, more to the sides of the wheel at 9 and 3 o'clock. That way, if an airbag deploys, her arms will be less likely to hit her in the face and cause an injury.

The classroom course costs $12 for AARP members and $14 for nonmembers. Classes are taught in activity centers, churches and businesses. An eight-hour online course costs $15.95 for AARP members and $19.95 for nonmembers and may also result in an insurance discount.

To find a class near you, enter your ZIP code on the Locate a Course page on the AARP Driver Safety Program website.

To volunteer to become an instructor, call 1-888-227-7669 toll-free. Instructors receive a $30 reimbursement to cover their course-related costs.

Also of interest: Why your car should fit you. >>

Kelley Shannon, a freelance writer based in Austin, has covered the Texas state government for the past decade.

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