TRAVERSE CITY — Michelle Mercer follows the 3-second rule when driving to avoid getting too close to the vehicle in front of her.
She knows that keeping her hands at the 8 and 4 o’clock positions on the steering wheel can prevent injury to her hands, arms and face if an accident triggers her airbag to inflate.
And she keeps her front wheels pointed straight ahead when waiting to turn left so that her car won’t move into oncoming traffic if her foot slips off the brake or someone hits her from behind.
She is careful.
Mercer, 70, a retired home health care nurse, is a two-time graduate of the an AARP Drivers Safety class offered periodically by the Grand Traverse Commission on Aging.
She took the class for the first time three years ago when she was 67 and again in June. She plans to sign up for a third rendition when she’s 73 because cars change as do traffic rules, driving conditions and roads.
“You’re never too old to learn and I’ve learned something new both times I’ve taken it,” she said. “It’s a must-do for anyone who cares about driving safely.”
The course is geared to drivers 50 and older, but is open to people of all ages, said Bill Young, one of the instructors.
Discussion is encouraged during the classes because it aids learning.
Mercer said about 15 people were in the classes she took, all probably older than 50 and one woman possibly in her early 80s. Typically, class sizes range from five to 15 people. And Young uses the AARP safety manual and also the Michigan Driving Manual as class supplements.
AARP has offered driving safety courses since 1979.
Older drivers are the demographic group with the highest rate of seat belt use and lowest percentage of alcohol-related accidents. But they are more likely to be killed or seriously injured when a crash occurs because they are more physically fragile than other drivers and generally less able to withstand the impact of a wreck, said the AARP.
The classes focus on current road rules, defensive driving techniques and ways to safely operate a vehicle in increasingly challenging driving environments. Participants who go to both classes receive a completion certificate that might help them get a discount on their car insurance.
Drivers also learn a laundry list of safety recommendations like how to manage common age-related changes in vision, hearing and reaction time; how to minimize the effects of dangerous blind spots; the safest ways to change lanes and make turns at busy intersections; proper use of safety belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and new technologies in cars.
The last chapter of the AARP manual teaches the students how to determine when it is time to stop driving and switch to public transportation, Young said.
The next class will be Thursday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Commission on Aging office, 520 W. Front St. in Traverse City. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 922-4688 or toll free 1-877-686-4688.
10 Warning Signs to Stop Driving
1. Almost crashing, with frequent "close calls."
2. Finding dents and scrapes on the car, on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc.
3. Getting lost, especially in familiar locations.
4. Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings.
5. Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving their foot from the gas to the brake pedal; confusing the two pedals.
6. Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramp .
7. Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain.
8. Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving.
9. Having a hard time turning around to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes.
10. Receiving multiple traffic tickets or "warnings" from law enforcement officers.