Photo by Unnikrishnan Raveendranathan
En español | John M. Beringer Sr., of Long Beach, has received three traffic tickets in his life — all for maneuvers he didn't know were illegal.
Driver's education wasn't offered as a high school course to Beringer, 81, and many others of his generation. He learned to drive as a teenager from a family member and picked up some bad habits, such as turning left from the wrong lane.
See also: Why take a driver safety course?
The traffic tickets helped Beringer unlearn the illegal maneuvers. He collected other safety tips 20 years ago when he took AARP's Driver Safety Program class, which covered precautions such as the danger of tailgating.
Now he knows the three-second rule — one of the many safety tips stressed in the program — so well that he can recite it chapter and verse: Drive at least three seconds behind the vehicle ahead.
Beringer, a retired aeronautics engineer, liked the class so much that he became an instructor and eventually AARP California's volunteer coordinator. "I enjoy especially the fact that we help senior citizens remain more active in a safe manner."
Discount up to insurer
Californians 55 and older who take the eight-hour course may be eligible for a three-year car insurance discount. To retain the discount, drivers must take a four-hour refresher course every three years.
Insurance companies are not required to give the discount, and the amount varies depending on the insurance company and the driver's record. Customers should check with their insurance carriers for details.
The discount is what attracted Carol Deuel, 74, of Willits, when she first took the course in 1999.
"I went to the class to get my insurance discount and went prepared to be bored out of my mind," Deuel said. Almost immediately, she changed her mind.
At the end of the class, the instructor passed out applications to people who were interested in teaching the class. Deuel signed up and now serves as the state's chief trainer.
Retired from both the phone company and the Department of Motor Vehicles, she works in the program because "I want the roads to be safer. If the roads are safer for seniors, the roads are safer for everyone."
She said the course emphasizes that as people age, reflexes aren't as quick as they once were, and vision changes can make night driving difficult and unwise.
More than 8.2 million California residents are 55 or older. Some rules of the road, including speed limits, have changed since many of them learned to drive. Also, some features in cars didn't exist when older drivers first drove cars.
Deuel said she wants older people to be able to drive as long as possible. "But we also have a chapter on when is it time to give up the keys," she said. "Sometimes, it's just time to stop."
Class open to all ages
Although the class is geared to people 50 and older, drivers of any age may take it.
"I can't tell you how many times people say 'I wish my teenager or the young adult in my family would take the class,' " said volunteer instructor Doris Morse, 75, of Millbrae.
Classes are offered throughout the state in English and Spanish, and a few classes are taught in Mandarin. AARP California hopes to attract more volunteers to teach classes in Mandarin, Cantonese and other Asian languages.
"I know there's a lot of people out there who we have not touched yet," Beringer said, adding that he hopes more bilingual instructors, including Spanish speakers, will attract additional class attendees.
Those who want to be teachers must first complete the class. To find out more about volunteering, call toll-free 1-888-227-7669.
AARP members pay $12 to attend classes; nonmembers pay $14. To find a class near you, go to aarp.org/findacourse and enter your ZIP code.
Online classes in Spanish or English are $15.95 for AARP members, $19.95 for nonmembers.
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Janet Kornblum is a writer living in San Francisco.
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