How a refresher course helped me become a more confident driver
Hester Riches, Senior Producer, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, March 5, 2018 6:00AM EST
CTVNews.ca senior producer Hester Riches on her experience taking a second round of driving lessons at age 60.
It had been almost a year since I’d gotten behind the wheel of an automobile.
I had been through a year of convalescence after surgery. During my recovery, the only traffic I’d negotiated was in the jam-up of walkers and shopping carts at the front of public transit buses in Toronto.
Healthier and behind the wheel for the first time in a long time, I had turned into a tentative, overly-cautious driver. Sounds like a good thing? It wasn’t.
Lane changes took longer to negotiate, and this is indeed one of the warning signs of unsafe driving. I was spending extra time checking, checking again and then triple-checking the blind spots. I occasionally missed the opportunity on what should have been an easy lane change. Other drivers seemed erratic. Was the problem with them, or me?
"I came away with a better picture of the future day when it will be time to apply the brakes for good"
I’d done months of driving games on the computer, using simulation games used in some driving schools. My reaction times to Flash-generated traffic lights and cartoon road runners were just fine, but perhaps the “games” had reprogrammed my brain to respond in threat-mode. What works well with technology doesn’t always translate to real life. So I called around for some testing and road work.
After an initial, stressful on-road evaluation, the right driving instructor -- someone who specialized in people recovering from accidents and anxiety -- seemed like more of a coach. “Coach” seems like one of those perfect baby-boomer titles. It helped re-frame the experience into a positive, like hiring a personal trainer.
After the first lesson I scribbled down a list of seven new tricks and tips, and subsequently studied the list daily to make sure I incorporated them into my driving routine. Some involved cleaning up acquired bad habits, while others helped me manage changes to roadways and traffic patterns in the decades since my first driving lessons.
Some of my favourite tips:
- Smoothing out lane changes by taking my time with the change after clicking on the turn indicator
- Useful tools for judging when I’m in another driver’s blindspot, and how to avoid lingering in that spot
- The purchase of a $20 clip-on mirror to expand the field on my compact rear-view mirror
More frequent and fuller mirror checks made a big difference in my ability to perceive traffic patterns. We booked more Saturday afternoon lessons to smooth out my lane changes, improve my speed on highway entries and exits, and get some important refreshers on handling traffic stops, left turns and parking.
With a few weeks of coaching from the driving instructor, I was able to smooth out my route to work and learn dozens of techniques to drive more effectively.
Like many baby boomers, I had been through the experience of urging a parent to give up driving after health problems arose well before the mandatory retesting ages for seniors. It was always an emotional argument, it played out in phases, and ruined many a family dinner.
If I had to do it again or recommend steps for others, this is the way to do it: Seek out objective data through computer simulations, or even more objective data from a classroom test or a visual processing test from an occupational therapist, and then contact a qualified driving instructor to provide straightforward feedback from the road.
This kind of mid-life coaching provides a safe way to evaluate skills and techniques, and can possibly win back a few more safe years on the road. I came away with a better picture of the future day when it will be time to apply the brakes for good.
For anyone who wants an assessment of their driving abilities, The Canadian Safety Council has a “55 Alive” Driver Refresher Course. You can also find rehab and physio clinics which provide driving instructors who specialize in neurocognitive and psychological issues associated with aging, injury or anxiety. The CAA and the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists provide an online toolkit and self-assessment quiz.
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