Santa Barbara- S County

Driving Class Helps Seniors Stay Safe Behind the Wheel

LOMPOC, Calif. - A local community center is offering free driving classes for seniors. This comes after several recent accidents involving elderly drivers on the Central Coast.

For many, a driver's license is a ticket to freedom; so turning in the keys for many elderly drivers, is never easy.

"2.9 million senior drivers, or older drivers, in the state of California and that's projected to bump up to approximately 4 million by the year 2020," said Officer Craig Carrier, Santa Maria California Highway Patrol.

Lompoc's Dick DeWees Community Senior Center is helping seniors stay safe on the road by offering a driving class for AARP members. It costs $15.

"They learn how to take the test again. They learn how to drive safely, on the roads, up the new laws," said Recreational Coordinator, Sue Slavens, Dick DeWees Community Senior Center.

The California Highway Patrol says crash rates are actually lower for older drivers, only because they are driving less compared to others.

Unfortunately, there have been several accidents involving elderly drivers over the last year on the Central Coast. In October, a 73-year-old woman accidentally hit the gas instead of the brakes and crashed into a gazebo outside a Solvang market and injured a Santa Barbara County firefighter and his young son. Last week, an 89-year-old woman hit and killed a Santa Ynez jogger.

California drivers who are 70 years and older are now required to go to the DMV to renew their license. They have to take a vision and written exam. While the DMV cannot take away a person's license because they are over a certain age, CHP says it's important to recognize warning signs.

"If they get lost or disorientated easily even in familiar places, that's something to watch out for, if they have difficulty merging on the freeway," said Officer Carrier.

CHP also offers an "Age Well Drive Smart" driving class for seniors. The next AARP course at Dick DeWees Community Senior Center is January 23 and 24.  Anyone interested contact (805) 875-8100.

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