By Sheila Burke
Nancy Kinnear feels confident in her own driving. It’s the other people behind the wheel, especially those who are distracted by their cellphones and other gadgets, who scare her.
“I don’t know how many times I see people looking down and they’ll go through stop signs,” said Kinnear, 73, of Collierville. “They don’t see lights. They’re texting or they’re talking on the phone.”
April is national Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and as part of its commitment to keeping older drivers safe, AARP Tennessee is educating members about the dangers of drivers who are not focused on the road.
AARP Tennessee will host a telephone town hall meeting on Thursday, April 20, at 10 a.m. CDT, as part of that campaign. To participate, register online at aarp.org/tn starting April 10.
Crash statistics show that distracted driving can have deadly consequences.
There were 24,743 crashes in Tennessee last year—including 59 fatalities—as a result of distracted driving, according to state statistics.
“The actual problem is probably a lot bigger,” said Deb Trombley, senior program manager for transportation initiatives at the National Safety Council.
She cited the proliferation of new communications technology. Drivers are texting with their hands or using voice commands to dictate text messages or send emails. They’re fiddling with GPS devices or entertainment apps when they should be keeping their eyes on the road.
Even using hands-free technology to talk on the phone while driving is dangerous.
“Our recommendation is that drivers not use any phone while driving—handheld or hands-free,” Trombley said. More than 30 studies show that drivers are not any less distracted when they are using hands-free technology.
A discount on insurance
Tips on how to avoid distractions while driving and how to improve your safety behind the wheel are at the heart of AARP’s Smart Driver course.
The course also explains how changes that happen as people age can affect driving ability and teaches participants how to drive with vision or hearing impairments, said George Coleman, 80, of Bartlett, the state coordinator for the AARP Driver Safety program. It addresses the use of medications, too.
The eight-hour course is usually divided into two days and is held at churches, senior centers, libraries and other places.
State law mandates that drivers who take the course and maintain a safe driving record get a three-year discount on their car insurance. The discounts vary by insurance carrier but are usually about 5 to 10 percent off the premium.
The course provides valuable information, Kinnear said. “It’s a good refresher. Many of the things taught are not just for seniors but any driver.”
Kinnear, a former teacher and county social services worker, and her husband, Roger, 75, regularly take the course to brush up on their skills and to get the insurance discount.
The cost is $15 for AARP members and $20 for nonmembers. The course can also be taken online. AARP members who take the course online pay $19.95; for nonmembers the charge is $24.95.
Go to aarp.org/drive or call 877-846-3299 toll-free for more information.
Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.