Arlene Dombrosky, pencil poised, peered at her workbook, reading the questions in a quiz about safe driving habits. At 67, the Jim Thorpe resident has been driving a good many years.
But she, along with 30 other mature folks, gathered on Tuesday to refresh their skills at an AARP Driver Safety Renewal Class offered by Blue Mountain Health System at its Hyperbaric & Wound Healing Center and Conference Center on 6th and Iron streets in Lehighton.
This was Dombrosky's second time for the class, having taken the full, eight-hour course two years ago.
"My sister had taken it and said it was very educational," she said. "You can forget things as you get older you need a refresher course."
In addition to reminders that make for safer driving habits, those taking the course can usually get a discount on their auto insurance premiums. The course explores how aging affects driving; teaches strategies to offset those changes and reduce chances of crashes and teaches older drivers how to recognize the signs that indicate when it's time to hang up the car keys. Men typically continue driving about six years after health, reflexes, hearing and eyesight dictate they should stop; for women, it's 10 years.
Some indicators include: having trouble moving into a lane of traffic; getting lost more often; bumping or scraping mailboxes, curbs or garage doors; more frequent "close calls;" unpredictable stopping in traffic; hesitating while making turns; trouble moving foot from gas to brake pedal; and not using signals correctly.
Blue Mountain Health System will offer the full course, for those 50 and up, from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 27-28 in the Blue Mountain Community Services Center at 217 Franklin Ave. in Palmerton.
The courses are needed more than ever because the numbers of older drivers are growing.
In 2008, there were 1,563,441 Pennsylvania drivers age 65 and older on the road, according to the state Department of Transportation. That's up 89,937 over 1999. Of those older drivers in 2008, about 1 percent were involved in crashes.
Most of the crashes were "angle" collisions, most commonly failing to yield right-of-way as traffic merges onto highways. Angle crashes happen because older drivers sometimes experience loss of peripheral vision and/or have difficulty turning their necks to see traffic approaching from the rear, said course instructor Jim Greaser of Freeland, Luzerne County.
He's been teaching the course since October 2007, two months after taking it. Teaching is a volunteer effort for both Greaser and his wife, Cheryl. They are, as far as he knows, the first husband and wife teaching team in the Schuylkill/Carbon/Berks region. They teach 18-20 classes a year.
"I took it like all these guys did, for the insurance break," he said. "But I enjoy teaching I enjoy being with people, and keeping them driving safely."
During the four-hour refresher course, Greaser's 31 students shared experiences, offered suggestions and challenged their knowledge of safe driving and their own limitations.
Among the tips the course offered were to keep a health history and a list of all medications, including vitamins and herbals, in a clearly marked container in your glove box; keep your headlights on for a 40 percent reduction of the chance of a crash; do daily stretching exercises by turning your neck, lifting and extending your arms and lifting your feet off the floor; make sure you ask the doctor how new medications or medical conditions will affect driving; keep plenty of space around your car in traffic; don't follow too closely and make sure your car is operating properly and that you have enough gas to get where you are going.
Participant Yvonne DiSalvo of Lehighton was glad she took the refresher course.
"It made me aware of things I'd forgotten about defensive driving," she said. "We tend to forget as we get older."