A refresher in driver safety benefits everyone

OK, let's assume you're a safe driver. You've been waiting patiently to make a left turn at a busy intersection. Your left-turn signal has been flashing. Traffic on the opposite side has now been reduced to a single car. You can probably make the turn, but why chance it? Since you're a safe driver, you wait for that one more car to go by.

Suddenly the opposing driver slows down noticeably, then makes a right turn. He or she never bothered to signal. Had the motorist signaled, you know you could have easily made the turn.

You immediately become incensed. You can't contain your frustration. You say a few choice words to no one, since you're the only person in your car.

"Whatsa matter, can't you signal?" you shout, again to no one. Then maybe you mumble a word or two that's unprintable, because while waiting for the other car, traffic has now begun to pick up. And you're forced to remain fixed, still waiting to make your turn.

Your blood pressure begins to rise. And within seconds, you could change from a safe driver to an unsafe driver. All because the other motorist was not alert enough to practice proper road courtesy.

"At a time like that, you want to force yourself to remain calm. If you don't, it could lead to aggressive driving behavior or even road rage," said Bob Greene, who has been instructing the AARP Driver Safety Course for 14 years.

Greene supervises the course several times a month at various locations in Summerlin. But he's only one of the scores of AARP volunteers throughout the state who instruct the course.

They do it with the help of a workbook that's provided by AARP for all who sign up, a publication that's upgraded periodically to stay abreast of vital changes in state laws that affect road safety.

Most instructors are like Greene. They talk about what you should know as a driver. They remind you of the most basic safe driving habits that many of us take for granted, or have forgotten over the years. And they do it with the aid of easily understood videotapes.

Has your appetite become whetted? If you're not one of the many thousands of drivers in Nevada who has taken the course this year, you might call 866-389-5652 to learn where and when it is given. But there's a proviso, which you'll read about farther down.

Then again, you might take a more cynical approach, like asking yourself, "What's in it for me?"

Well, first and foremost, the four hours you spend in the classroom could save your life.

As Maria Dent, director of community outreach for AARP of Nevada, explained it: "The course is all about safety. We live in a constantly changing world. Laws change. Rules of the road change. Automobile technology changes. And driving habits must also change."

Secondly, a motorist who completes the course is considered a well-informed driver by most of the insurance industry. That means you could save a bundle on your auto insurance premiums over a three-year period, which is the life of the effectiveness of the course.

And if you're not familiar with the AARP Driver Safety Program, you should know it carries the imprimatur of the State of Nevada, certified under a statute that permits insurers to discount premiums for drivers who fulfill the course.

Now for the proviso. Under that law, drivers must be either senior citizens or persons who are approaching their golden years, since the course is available only to those 50 or older.

Perhaps Greene put the course into perspective when he said, "This doesn't make you a better driver. It makes you a safer driver."

And that brings us to the one constraint in the entire picture. In too many instances, the safe driving course is unavailable to many drivers who need it most. That's because there is nothing comparable to the AARP program for motorists younger than 50 ---- so many of whom could indeed use a course in safe driving.

Just think of how many lives might be saved if a similar course were available to drivers of all ages.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, "All For Nothing," is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.