Safe Seniors

Flora Leitch has been driving for 60 years with no accidents, no moving violations, not even a parking ticket. Leitch wants to continue to drive, and felt attending the free “Age Well, Drive Smart” class offered by the Oakhurst office of the California Highway Patrol Nov. 20 would help her keep that ‘clean’ record.

“This class was designed to assist older drivers,” said Kaci Lutz, Oakhurst CHP public information and training officer who presented the helpful two-hour class with assistance from Officer Josh McConnel of Madera. “As drivers age, often their physical and mental abilities diminish, and reduced vision, hearing, and motor skills can affect their driving in different ways.”

Leitch, who turns 88 in December, said she enjoyed the class that proved to be a good refresher course for her as she prepares to renew her driver’s license at the DMV in a couple weeks.

“I’ve been studying the DMV book getting ready for my test, but Officer Lutz was very informative,” Leitch said. “There are so many different driving situations, it was nice to have her explain what is legal and what is not legal on the highways. Officer Lutz was sharp, and kept things moving along with a lot of humor.”

Leitch said she doesn’t go far, but she certainly wants to continue driving around Oakhurst.

“I get help from my son and friends to go to Fresno or to Southern California,” Leitch said.

Leitch lived in Anaheim when there were plenty of Orange tree orchards, and due to a good public transportation system, did not learn to drive till she was almost 30 years old.

“When I finally decided to learn to drive, my friend and neighbor was kind enough to teach me,” Leitch said.

The interactive class was attended by 25 older drivers who did not hesitate to voice reasons why driving is important to them - necessity (grocery store and doctor appointments), family contact, social activities (movies, concerts, plays), volunteering opportunities, as well as the freedom and mobility driving provides them.

Understanding the importance of having the privilege of driving, Lutz pointed out some myths about older drivers.

All older drivers know when to restrict or stop driving. False. Doctors will tell you when it’s time to stop driving. False. When reviewing your driver’s license, the Department of Motor Vehicles will automatically check your driving ability. False. It’s easy to use public transportation. False (especially in Eastern Madera County).

Lutz told the group they all have to be honest with themselves, family, and friends when driving becomes a safety hazard for themselves and others on the roads.

“It’s a real tragedy when a person knows they should not be driving, and then are involved in a serious accident,” Lutz said.

Since Friday’s class was full, a second “Age Well, Drive Smart” class has been scheduled 10 a.m. - noon, Friday, Jan. 8.

Older driver resources

*  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Infortmation on older drive safety including medical conditions that may affect driving -

*  The Hartford: To download the “We Need to Talk” guide,

*  AAA: Mature driver improvement courses and other information -

*  AARP: Locate driver safety courses in your area - (888) 227-7669,

*  Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists: Locate a professional working in the field of driver assessment and retraining. (866) 672-9466.

*  Lifelong Driver: Interactive computer course to improve essential driving skills,

*  California Department of Aging: Links to counties for all senior services, referrals, and transportation programs. (800) 510-2020,

*  Alzheimer’s Association: Offers a 24 hour helpline for referrals. (800) 272-3900,

*  Training, Research, and Education for Driving Safety: University of California, Dan Diego,

Teen class will be held Dec. 3

“Start Smart,” a free CHP driving class for teenagers and their parents, will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3 at the Oakhurst CHP office at the corner of Highway 49 and Redbud Drive.

The interactive class is designed to provide teens with safe driving awareness skills, and illustrate how poor choices behind the wheel of a vehicle can affect lives, including their own.

Traffic collisions are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in the United States, ending more young lives every day than cancer, homicide, and suicide combined. In 2013, more than 19,000 California drivers aged 15 - 19 were involved in fatal or injury accidents.

For reservations for the Dec. 3 teen class or the Jan. 8 seni or class, call Lutz, (559) 658-6611.