TN Highway Patrol driving up to Elizabethton Senior Center next Tuesday

Published 8:12 am Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Vehicle fatalities on the roadways total in the thousands every year from a variety of sources, but if a list of simple ways to keep attention on the road can drastically reduce that number, Tennessee Highway Patrol wants to give out that information as often as possible.

Lieutenant Rick Garrison of Tennessee Highway Patrol is bringing his driver safety courses to Elizabethton’s Senior Center next Tuesday.

Garrison said in the first two months of 2019, there have been 170 reported fatalities on state roads. Out of that number, 41, roughly 24 percent of them, are drivers over the age of 65.

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“By comparison, the number of teen driver fatalities was 17,” Garrison said.

The safety course focuses on what he called “preventative maintenance,” or actions and behaviors to take to help reduce the possibility of a wreck from even happening.

“We go over safety tips, encourage them to get their eyes and ears checked by a doctor,” he said.

He said two topics, in particular, receive special attention during the safety session: medications and seat belts.

In terms of the latter, he said Tennessee is a “primary stop” for seat belt usage, meaning officers can pull over a vehicle if they see the driver not wearing a seat belt. Fines include $25 for a first offense and  $50 for repeat offenses.

Beyond the legal and financial reasons to wear seat belts, he said the possible harm a collision can inflict is greatly reduced with seat belt usage.

Beyond keeping up with medications and seat belts, he said the biggest problem affecting older drivers is simply a lack of awareness.

“I had a lady in Unicoi last week,” Garrison said. “She said she got in a crash the previous week, and she said ‘I just did not see them.’”

He said this difficulty in maintaining awareness is one of the main reasons to get eyesight and hearing checked once a year.

“A lot of these kinds of crashes are because they do not see the other car or traffic,” he said. “They need to pay more attention to the road.”

Many drivers, however, might be proud and otherwise not willing to accept the idea they might not be good drivers after all. He said the purpose of the session is not to tell people they are good or bad drivers.

“If you hit your mailbox, it is a minor thing,” Garrison said. “If you do it all the time, however, and you keep getting new scratches on your car, it might be a red flag. […] This is kind of like a driver’s ed class for senior drivers.”

Unlike driver’s ed, the class does not require registration or a fee payment beforehand. Those interested in attending can instead come to the Elizabethton Senior Center, located at 428 East G St. The event will take place from 9 to 10 a.m. next Tuesday, March 19.

He said this kind of information is important because even if you do not get into an accident or a crash specifically, reckless or otherwise unsafe driving can lead to suspending your license anyway.

“We can send a letter to Nashville to force you to get retested for your license,” Garrison said. “This is about giving suggestions to improve your driving safety.”