Category Archives: Driving

New Rules of the Road: Who Knew?

Driving certificatesAs I mentioned we would do in my previous post, Ray and I went to the AAA Driver Improvement Program course in Ithaca this past Saturday. We had talked about doing this for years, every year in fact since we moved to the Finger Lakes and found out from our new insurer that there is a discount for people completing the course.

I admit that I was skeptical whether the savings would materialize but, since starting the blog, we decided that we needed to check it out – not just for the blog, but for our own well-being. We have not been disappointed.

We and the other students were largely gray hairs, and speaking for ourselves, we can say that we found the course truly enlightening. The first exercise was a test of what we “knew to be true.” Much of what we had learned in our driver’s ed classes and the rules of the road over the years has changed. No more placing your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, for example. If your air bag, located in the center of the steering wheel, should inflate, your wrists may be broken. Try 9 and 3. It’s better for your back anyway.

The circumstances of driving have changed radically in recent decades. Today we have to deal with multi, multi lane highways; we need to concern ourselves with other drivers using and abusing new technology. In short, we need to not only hone our own skills, but to be prepared to respond to new road challenges and conditions.

Well, not to frighten you too much, let me say that there were also tips on how to park and position one’s self for shopping centers and general pull-ins. How do we gauge where we position ourselves in high speed situations? And what are the best ways of setting our side-view mirrors? How about stopping at intersections? All very good stuff.

Now, on a more personal level, let me say that our instructor, Kieran, was the right person for us. A retired law enforcement officer, he knew whereof he spoke. He was also engaging, funny and full of personal insights. A very imposing presence, he was nonetheless the officer that I would wish to confront should I be pulled over: a by-the-rules guy who also recognized that there is room for warnings and second chances. And, he told us that his colleagues who teach the course also bring countless stories and expertise. It’s worth it regardless of who the instructor is.

Don’t show up late to Kieran’s class, incidentally. One lady attempted to sidle in 90 minutes after we started, but Kieran was firm in telling her that she would have to re-register and take the course another day. These are AAA rules and not to be flouted.

Thanks, Kieran, for a rewarding day. We are putting what you taught us into practice.

Next step: I take our certificates to our insurance agent and wait to see what we get from them for our efforts. We’ll keep you posted.



Widow Discrimination When Driving and More

I read an article recently by Tim Grant of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was carried in our local paper.  Grant discusses how major insurers raise auto insurance rates for widows. This appears to be the case regardless of the widow’s previous driving record. The justification: most major insurers charge all single people higher rates regardless of age and whether they have been married, divorced or widowed.  You can read the article for yourself here. Mr. Grant could not tell whether widowers were treated as shabbily.

The issues discussed in the article were based on studies by the Consumer Federation of America, which represents about 300 consumer groups nationally. The Federation is also cited in the September 2015 issue of Consumer Reports. The CR coverage, The Truth About Car Insurance Rates, is more extensive than Mr. Grant’s but does not address directly the widow premium matter. Rather, it is the first of a series of articles that CR will be doing in the coming months. CR contracted with Quadrant Information Services to do a comprehensive analysis of insurance rates across the United States. Because insurance rates are regulated at the state level, this was a massive undertaking and showed great variations across the states and the major insurance companies. The variation among companies was not limited to their differences one from another, but also included how individual companies price the same coverage from state to state.

One thing that is clear from these articles is the tremendous disadvantage under which the consumer labors. Insurers will not divulge their pricing formulas, so we are left to do comparison shopping, a strategy recommended by Consumer Reports. They also provide information on how to fight unfair pricing, but it really goes to the heart of our financial information. Insurers mine Big Data, the information that is out there on our credit reports and buying habits, to further obfuscate their pricing. CR has some tips on what to do and what to avoid.

Finally, CR has included a petition for consumers to take action. It’s a form for the reader to complete and mail to them, which they will then deliver to state insurance commissioners. CR also provides information on how to tweet the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and to phone your state insurance commissioner. I’ll be filling out the form, but I wish that CR had not made it part of the article. I’ll have to photocopy the form in order to keep the magazine intact for future rants. A better way to get us mobilized would have been to make the form a “blow in” within the issue or to have made it a perforated tear out. Perhaps in their future issues.

This is a very important issue for all consumers, and I highly recommend that you get a copy  of the recent Consumer Reports and read it carefully. Some of the information is maddening, but it’s best that we know how we are being played for fools.

And now, something to look for in the near future. Ray and I will be taking the AAA course for seniors. This is the program that many insurers encourage us to take. The enticement is the hope that completing this course “may” entitle us to as much as a 10% reduction in our insurance rate. We shall see.


Common Sense About Driving

Most of us seniors, at least most of those I know, depend heavily on their cars. For our first retirement home, Donna and I have chosen a rural location – so rural that we can’t call a taxi, since there is no taxi service. Nor can we take a bus anywhere, since there is no public transportation whatsoever. We don’t have Uber either, of course, although personally, I think that an app like Uber might make sense in a rural area, where many seniors need rides and many younger people need extra income.Traffic Chapel Street

If we want to buy groceries, attend a meeting, or get to the doctor’s, we have to drive. Perhaps we didn’t make the wisest decision in moving here, but we love our friendly community and the natural beauty of our Finger Lakes.

We have friends with lovely homes in more densely populated parts of Florida, but their transportation situation doesn’t differ much from ours. They might have bus service on a busy highway blocks away, and they could call a taxi, but practically speaking, whenever they want to go somewhere, they climb behind the wheel and turn the ignition key. The same is true of our senior friends and family in towns and suburbs across the country.

Drive we must, but it’s a constant worry. Wouldn’t it be awful if we had an accident, whether our fault or not, and someone, perhaps a child, were injured or killed? And we have ourselves to consider as well. AAA points out that seniors are safe drivers compared to other age groups, since we tend to buckle our seat belts, observe the speed limit, and not drive drunk; but still, 5,000 of us are killed in car crashes each year.

That’s why Donna and I have signed up for the six hour AAA defensive driving course being offered in Ithaca on September 19. It costs just $36 for AAA members, which will be more than covered by the 10 percent discount we’ll receive on our auto insurance for the next three years. If we had points on our licenses, the course would allow us to have four of them removed.

This course is offered online, but we feel we would benefit from the discipline of the classroom. After we finish, we’ll review the course here at Common Sense for Seniors.  AARP also offers driving courses for seniors, both online and in classes.

In addition, I’ve proposed to Donna that we take the two-day automobile control course at the BMW Performance Driving School in Spartanburg, SC. This course, which is offered in California as well, features braking, cornering, lane changes, and timed slaloms, together with the opportunity to drive the full line of BMW vehicles. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? But the $1,550 tuition seems a little steep, although a one-day course is available for $775.  The Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Colorado also sounds like fun. It focuses on winter driving skills beyond the basics, including accident avoidance, and comes in at just $495.

Readers — has anyone tried either of these schools? It seems to me that there must be more driving schools with tracks out there, where seniors can hone their safety skills and every once in a while gun that sucker around a curve. Do you know of any?

Pumping Gas Can Be Learned — And Should Be

In Leisureville, Andrew Blechman mentions meeting a recent widow who was feeling helpless because she had never learned to pump gas. That may sound unusual, but in fact Donna and I had a close relative who found herself in the same situation. Attendants in gas stations sometimes wouldn’t help her because they couldn’t leave the cash register. If someone did come out, he or she typically acted annoyed. Finally, a good samaritan wrote down step by step instructions for our relative, and she was able to cope.

Pumping gas: a survival skill

Pumping gas a survival skill

I used to tell the story of our relative to friends, thinking it so odd, but I soon learned that the phenomenon of women not pumping gas is more widespread than I had realized. Friends and friends of friends do not pump. Back in 1983, someone actually wrote a book entitled Real Women Don’t Pump Gas. This attitude may have led directly to the recent report of a new widow weeping at the pump.

Husbands: if you have thought it your responsibility to keep the car gassed up all these years, you are a true gallant. But common sense dictates that you transmit the knowledge of this mystery to your beloved at the earliest possible moment. Checkout time is often not announced.


New Safety Systems a Boon to Senior Drivers

Have you ever been backing out of a parking space, only to have a car shoot past behind you? You slam on the brakes, and narrowly avoid a crash — this time.

Waiting to happen.

Waiting to happen.

Wouldn’t it make sense to own a car equipped with one of the new rear cross traffic detection systems? They use radar sensors on either side of the rear bumper to alert drivers not only to oncoming cars, but also to bicyclists and oblivious pedestrians pushing shopping carts. The systems are available on new Fords and other cars.

Or how about the pedestrian and cyclist detection system, with full automatic braking found on new Volvos? What a boon that would be, particularly in an era when walkers and bike riders are so often distracted by their smart devices.

These are just some of the recently-developed safety systems that can help protect us seniors — and those around us as well. Other systems include rear backup cameras; forward collision warning systems, sometimes coupled with automatic braking; automatic headlight dimmers; parking assist; lane departure warnings, which can include automatic steering back into your lane; blind spot monitoring with braking and steering assist; and adaptive cruise control to keep us a safe distance from the car in front.

When shopping for a safer car, be sure to consult the interactive safety rating website of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. There, you can plug in the models you’re thinking about and learn their ratings on crash worthiness and collision avoidance.

AAA has a website that helps seniors find vehicles adapted to whatever disabilities age may have brought upon them. The adaptations include things you might not ordinarily think about, such as thicker steering wheels for those with arthritis or high contrast instrument panels for drivers with diminished vision.

The problem with buying a new car loaded with all the latest safety features is cost. Optional safety systems can push the price of a Honda, Chevy, or Toyota well over $30,000. A Volvo C60, with a range of safety features included, might come in at $34,000. Getting into a safety-equipped Mercedes or Audi will cost even more.

As time passes, advanced safety systems will begin to appear in less expensive cars, and in the used car market. Consumer Reports includes both new and used cars in its top ten list of best cars for older drivers.

It’s going to be a while before we can get into our Google self-driving car and head out to the eye doctor. In the meantime, let’s hope that the new, advanced safety systems will help keep us on the road.