Healthy Living: Your Driving Assessment

Healthy Living / Christine Harness

Way back during my happy high school years, we students actually got to enjoy a ‘for credit’ course of drivers training, with detailed emphasis on the rules of the road and included how to drive safely on those icy, snow-covered rural Pennsylvania roads in the harsh winters. Our instructor cared enough to include teaching us how to check and change oil, brake fluid, battery and a flat tire. Courtesy and patience were stressed throughout the course. I clearly recall the pride and pleasure I felt receiving my first drivers license at the age of 16. And now, after all of these years of driving, I must once again renew my drivers license to continue this privilege before my June birthday. And so, I find myself checking my current status: My vision continues to be reliable, no need for glasses; cataract surgery corrected those nasty sparking lights, bothersome with night-driving; left ear hearing is a bit diminished, yet I am able to quickly detect those oncoming sirens from ambulances and other vehicles. And with those ever-increasing DMV bills and insurance premiums, I learned that I can get a $55 discount on my annual premium if I successfully complete a ‘Mature Driver Improvement Course.’ Living here in the Kern River Valley does limit the resources available to us, but I learned that the AARP Driver Safety Program, an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. class was available for me and scheduled in Kernville for Tuesday, January 30. The cost? A mere $15 (with AARP membership.)

Gene Verbeet, our instructor for the day, greeted us with, “I’m going to talk to you until 5 o’clock if you listen to me or not.” And listen we did! He held our full attention throughout the hours with his skilled and enlightening presentations. Gene has mastered his art of teaching, much from his many years of teaching fifth graders, knowing just the right amount of gentle humor to interject into his lecturing. This ‘AARP Smart Driver Course’ equipped us with a 123 page participant guidebook, professionally and specifically designed for older drivers. We devoted the day to reviewing the new 2017 and 2018 added laws, research-based safety strategies, and understanding the links among the driver, vehicle, and road environment. Although personally, driving through roundabouts increases my feelings of insecurity, Gene tells us roundabouts are found to result in far fewer crashes than traditional intersections, moving the traffic through intersections without the aid of traffic signals. 35 percent of traffic citations for drivers age 55 and over are issued for failure to yield the right of way, and we forget that ‘right of way’ is “something you give, not something you take.”

We covered many resources for self-assessment, but my search for a formal driving assessment specialist, an occupational therapist with specialized training to assess your skills and abilities to drive safely, found none available in the Bakersfield area. The nearest: Kaweah Delta Rehab Center, Visalia (559-624-3700); Rehab Institute of Santa Barbara (805-964-0640); Central Coast Driver’s Safety Evaluation, San Luis Obispo (805-541-5543) and Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital (707-543-2550). Based on your evaluation, the therapist can make recommendations about strategy, specialized equipment and training to improve your driving safety and overall health and wellness. Once again, I want to say, “Thank you, Gene Verbeet and AARP!”

Christine Harness has worked in the field of Occupational Therapy throughout her adult life, both in and outside of the Kern River Valley. She has helped countless individuals to maintain or regain their independence. Christine believes that enjoying and taking satisfaction in one’s day-to-day activities is the key to a meaningful life.