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Published: Monday, 9/16/2002

Sheriff aims to aid older drivers


OTTAWA, Ohio - The Putnam County sheriff's office has some safety tips for older drivers.

Stretch before driving to loosen your muscles. Avoid left turns by making several right turns instead to reach the same destination. And when buying a car, consider a bright color like red instead of a muted shade like green.

Those are just a few of the topics that will be covered in a two-day course the department is conducting this month for “mature drivers,” Lt. Marv Schwiebert said.

Putnam County's first “55 ALIVE” class, sponsored by the AARP, is scheduled for today and tomorrow at the Ottawa VFW Hall. Lt. Schwiebert said the course, with about 20 people signed up, is full, but another session is planned in the spring.

Lieutenant Schwiebert, Sheriff James Beutler, and Lt. Tim Meyer took the same class from an AARP instructor in Napoleon so they could qualify to teach the course in Ottawa.

“I think it's a very informative class,” Lieutenant Schwiebert said. “I've been in law enforcement many years, and there's a lot of things I didn't realize.”

Topics in the course, which doesn't include time behind the wheel, will include driving on freeways, judging reaction time, and handling road-rage situations. Participants will review traffic laws, discuss safety features like seat belts and anti-lock brakes, and learn how medications can affect a driver's ability.

Putnam County is mainly rural and has few highways. Its only stretch of four-lane highway is a two-mile section of U.S. 30 that passes through the southern part of the county.

Still, motorists need to be prepared for trips on bigger, busier highways when they leave the county, Lieutenant Schwiebert said.

“Being in a rural area like we are, not too often do they drive on a four-lane highway, like I-75, or a six-lane highway,” he said.

But even the county's two-lane roads are becoming busier.

“I would say it's more congested,” the lieutenant said. “Twenty years ago, when a person found employment, he always found employment close by. Now it's not unusual for somebody to drive an hour to go to work. ... A lot of traffic is coming through our county that's just passing through, going from home to work and work to home.”

The “55 ALIVE” course costs $10 and offers participants a financial incentive. If a driver completes the class, he can get a discount of 5 percent to 15 percent from many auto insurers.

The AARP program dates to 1979 and is offered nationwide. In Toledo, the course has been offered at hospitals and community centers for the last decade, and other counties have conducted classes too.

Hancock County Sheriff Mike Heldman said his department offered the course a few years ago and would like to do so again.

“The people that went through it before felt it was very worthwhile,” Sheriff Heldman said. “I think the biggest thing with older drivers is the heavier traffic we've seen on the highways.”

Billie Johnson, executive director of the Area Office on Aging in Toledo, said the course is worthwhile and could benefit less-senior drivers too.

“They have wonderful tools to use in their curriculum training that they can give to seniors,” she said. “So it's a valuable program. And it's valuable for young people. Certainly, there are young people ... who haven't taken a refresher course in a while who can use it. I run into them on the road all the time.”

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