NAUGATUCK — Many years ago, Lyle Montanye, Sr. took his brand new truck, leather seats polished to a lustrous shine, for a drive down a steeply sloped road.
“I just about slid off the seat and crashed into a stone wall or a fire hydrant,” he recalled. “The only way I could keep myself on the seat was to fasten my safety belt.”
Montanye learned his safe-driving lesson the easy way. Now, the former New York state trooper tries to make sure fellow senior citizens don’t have to learn theirs the hard way.
Monday morning, before a class of 31 at the Naugatuck Senior Center, Montanye led an AARP safe driving course.
“I tell our seniors that they’re going to be ACE drivers,” senior center director Harvey Leon Frydman said. “That’s alert, courteous and educated. And that’s what they’re doing—they’re getting educated.”
The borough’s senior center hosts the approximately four-hour course almost every month, usually drawing a sizeable enrollment. Participants receive certificates upon completion, which in some cases entitle them to insurance discounts.
Montanye reviewed safety habits that apply to everyone—like wearing a seatbelt and not driving drunk—as well as some geared specifically toward his older audience. The most heavily stressed pointer—reinforced by a video—was that a senior driver should maintain a four-second gap between his vehicle and the one in front of him.
“OK, here’s an abutment, the end of a bridge,” Montanye said, demonstrating the scenario with his podium and a pair of plastic cars borrowed from his grandson. “… One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three,” he counted, keeping the second car a safe distance behind the first. “If you get up to the third [second], and you haven’t come to that abutment, you are in shape.”
While many teen driving courses and a recent Allstate Insurance commercial recommend a two-second gap, AARP suggests four for seniors to allow plenty of time to react to sudden braking by another vehicle or an obstruction in the road.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the rate of fatal crashes increases as people age. At ages 65-69, the fatality rate is less than two per 100 million miles driven; it jumps to almost five between the ages of 75 and 79 and skyrockets to 15 over the age of 85.
Among those watching Montanye’s presentation was David Cronin, himself a senior citizen and a former AARP driving instructor who was there to hear the organization’s most up-to-date tips.
“These courses can be very beneficial, and I’m hoping to start teaching again soon,” Cronin said.
While there comes a time when it is no longer safe for a senior to drive, Frydman said he believes most seniors can stay behind the wheel, if they understand how to adjust their habits as they age.
“They want to keep their independence, but they also want to be responsible,” he said. “No one wants to be in crashes.”