Knowing when it's time to give up the wheel

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Driver safety classes

AARP Driver Safety classes are offered several times a year at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. The eight-hour class is $10.

To add your name to a list for future classes, call the Routt County Council on Aging, 879-0633.

The course also is available online at www.aarp.org. Click on the Families link and then on Drivers Safety.

Volunteers are needed to teach Driver Safety classes in Craig. Volunteers must be 50 or older, have taken the course in the last three years and be willing to attend one day of instructor training in Grand Junction. Instructors receive a discount on their car insurance. If interested, call Bob Kline at (970) 243-2531.

Bud and Jane Romberg typically see about 20 people in the driver safety classes they teach for drivers 50 and older.

With an average of 40 years behind the wheel, participants have a total of about 800 years of driving experience.

It's somewhat ironic then, that drivers with the most experience - those 75 and older - have higher fatal crash rates per mile driven than any other age group except teenagers - the least experienced drivers, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

"Teenagers think they are immortal, seniors know they are not, but teenagers have much better vision and hearing to react to certain situations," Bud Romberg said, explaining that seniors, because they've been driving so long, can become complacent to how age-related changes affect their driving.

The AARP Driver Safety Program, which the Rombergs teach regularly at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, aims to help older drivers recognize their driving problems and potential solutions, such as limiting driving or giving it up altogether.

"It can be a very traumatic kind of thing," Bud Romberg said. "Hopefully having discussions about it will make it easier when the decision comes up."

Frances Wither, 90, of Steamboat is only comfortable driving during the day because the lights of oncoming cars make it too difficult for her to see at night. She also limits her driving for in-town errands, and gave up picking up a friend whose driveway required Wither to back out onto a busy road.

"I just felt it wasn't safe anymore," said Wither, who has taken the Driver Safety class three times.

Unlike some states, which require older drivers to renew their license more often or take a road test, Colorado places essentially no restrictions on older drivers.

All Colorado drivers must renew their license every five years, though drivers 60 and older must renew in person with a vision test, not through the mail or Internet.

Colorado recognizes the importance of older drivers staying on top of their skills - the state requires auto insurance providers to reduce rates for drivers 55 and older who complete a driver's course.

The eight-hour AARP class includes a self-assessment test and units on warning signs of unsafe driving, such as being honked at often, and how to make driving less stressful such as choosing alternate routes, having a navigator in the car and reviewing driving plans before heading out.

The class addresses age-related changes, such as kinds of sight loss, and their effects on driving as well as how different medications or combinations of medications may affect driving abilities.

The Rombergs also discuss ways to express concern about friends or family members' driving and how to go about planting the seed that they need to give it up.

That ultimately spurs people to consider their own driving, Bud Romberg said.

"The question is always there, 'Have I gotten to that point,'" he said.

Transportation options for seniors who give up driving completely include the free bus system within Steamboat and Routt County Council on Aging vans, which are available to take Routt County residents on errands to Steamboat and Craig at least several days a week. Call 879-0633 for more information.

Moffat County also has vans available to take seniors on errands in or near Craig Monday through Friday. Seniors must live in the city or within a five mile radius for pickups. Call 824-3911 for more information.

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