I thought I had signed up for something called “Defensive Driving Class.” Sounded a bit combative to me. Something like Martial Arts on Wheels and not at all like our Minnesota Nice, where a typical lane merging on the highway often stalls because everyone is waving everyone else on ahead. “No, you first. Please.” “Oh please! Just go!”
But that’s what our insurance agent called it when she explained that by enrolling in the 8 hour class (2 four hour sessions), we would get an insurance discount while brushing up on our driving skills. My husband suggested that I be the designated driver/student, since his skills were more than sufficient and by attending I/we would be eligible for a 10% reduction in our premium over the next three years.
And since in one year alone, I crashed into 2 deer in one blow, 1 coyote, 1 lamppost, and a pedestrian (don’t ask), I not only had no recourse, but decided that I most likely needed some defense.
Thus it was that this past week I showed up two nights in a row, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Community Education Center of Fergus Falls. As it turns out, the class was not, as previously described, entitled “Defensive Driving Class” but rather, “Driving Skills for Seniors.” Consequently there was a large chunk of class time devoted to senior citizen issues. Facts like – after 60 years of age, a driver needs 3 times more light to see adequately while behind the wheel. And a list of the primary safety issues to confront – narrowing of peripheral vision, night blindness, neck turning mobility, slower brain responses, tendency to get lost, and general confusion. Uff Da!
Shari, the instructor was peppy and funny, regaled us with tales about her 8 children and aging parents, and threw out tootsie rolls to anyone who responded with a correct answer. She also put a huge car monkey wrench in my driving technique, which just might be unfixable at this late date. And scared me witless about the danger of even getting behind the wheel.
Weren’t we all trained in our high school driving course to assume, at the risk of life and limb, a 10-2 hand position? I was. Remember? You envision the face of a clock and put the left hand where the 10 would be and the right hand at the 2. I know the rules.
But we seniors began driving before the advent of air bags, said Shari, and that fact, it seems, has changed everything. So now I know (and sort of wish I didn’t), that when that bag explodes it does so at an awesome 200 miles per hour. Which means that if our hands are in the “old timer” position, they will not only knock us senseless but most likely right out of this earthly existence. To further illustrate her point, and to ensure that our senior brains grasped the gravity, she cited some specific accidents in graphic detail. I can only say that you must never, ever, as a passenger, rest your feet upon the dashboard or engage in picking your nose.
As our homework after the first evening class, we were instructed to observe our driving stance and if it was a 10-2, we must readjust to 8-4. And not only that, we must be certain that we don’t grasp the wheel with our thumbs pointing towards our body. Eight Four, Thumbs Out. And don’t turn the wheel by rotating your hand up and above and around. Stay in 8-4 mode at all times. And one more thing. Make certain you body is over 10” away from the steering wheel.
I think of myself as a confident, responsible driver. In the past I regularly traversed the Big Sur highway in California with aplomb as well as the Los Angeles freeway system (well, the later when I was younger) and I have been 10-2 behind a wheel for almost 60 years. Like most motorists, I never consciously think about a “hand stance.” I think about whether I need to add arugula to the shopping list and if I have enough time to pick up a latte before garden club meeting and how mad I am about the pesticides that are killing the honey bees and how I need to write about that on my blog when I get home.
But now? I don’t know. I’m not certain I’m a comfortably adaptable Eight Four-er. It’s not easy to change. It’s like switching the side of the bed you sleep on. Or eating your dessert before your entrée. Or patting the top of your head while rubbing your tummy as you hop on one foot while whistling the Norwegian national anthem. If I knew it.
Well, this is a fine dilemma. The certificate of completion states specifically that I now have the skills. But, honestly, I don’t.