Road safety refresher for older drivers

17:39, Feb 18 2013

A retired Blenheim woman will get behind the wheel for the first time in 25 years next week when she attends a free driving course for older people.

Bev Birch, 74, said the Marlborough Road Safety Council course, at the Wesley Centre in Henry St next Tuesday, was exactly what she needed to get driving again.

All she needed was a little practice and a reminder of the road rules, she said. "But I'm a good driver, even if I do say so myself. I have not lost confidence."

Mrs Birch, formerly of Auckland, used to drive through 19 sets of traffic lights on her way to work.

"There are none here," she said. "Just roundabouts."

Older women often relied on taxis and friends to get to the shops and the bank, Mrs Birch said.


The free course, from 9am till noon, might give older people the push they needed to get driving again. "I'm looking forward to it and talking to other people," she said.

Mrs Birch, who passed her driving test when she was 47 years old, had only driven an automatic once.

Her husband had been encouraging her to start driving again, she said.

"I saw the driving course advertised and thought, ‘I'll do something about it'. Although I'll have to get my eyes tested first."

Mrs Birch said she didn't feel comfortable driving a bigger car.

Her husband, Roy Birch, wasn't looking forward to the prospect of driving a "puddle jumper" if his wife started driving again.

"I'll have to buy something suitable for Bev to drive," he said. "That's the compromise. She says she can't drive big cars but small cars today are a lot bigger than they were. They are not that small anymore."

Although she felt "surrounded by car", Mrs Birch wouldn't make her husband give up his Subaru Forester, she said.

Marlborough Road Safety Council secretary Geoff Powell said the organisation held four free tutorials a year with the aim of improving road awareness.

The programme included advice on pedestrian crossings, roundabouts, road markings, road signs and speed limits.

"A lot of older people are not quite sure what indicator-use is for, particularly going through roundabouts," Mr Powell said. "Drivers are indicating right when going straight through [a roundabout] which can cause confusion among other road users.

"There is a common misconception that drivers must stop for pedestrians at courtesy crossings when, in fact, motorists have the right of way."

The free course for older people next Tuesday had a maximum of 15 people, Mr Powell said.

Anyone interested in taking part should contact Nigel on 03 578 5256.

The Marlborough Express