New leader merges into driver program

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WALLA WALLA - Jim Hall has become district coordinator for the AARP Driver Safety Program, taking over from Elsie Thompson after she retired from her volunteer work

Thompson's dedication as coordinator has brought her the recent honor of being chosen as one of Washington state's Volunteers of the Month for February.

Hall retired in 2008 as associate vice president of finance at Walla Walla University.

The program offers older motorists brush-up classes on driving, new rules and traffic safety.

"The emphasis is on trying to keep people out of accidents," Hall said "The classes teach defensive driving; there are a number of tips presented. We have a unit in the course about recognizing when you're having difficulties. The students can think ahead about how they might do in that situation."

Hall's southeastern Washington zone covers Walla Walla, Columbia, Asotin and Garfield counties, so there are plenty of classes to schedule, teachers to recruit and territory to oversee.

He and his wife, Ruth, are both driver safety class instructors.

The Halls took a class about a year ago and enjoyed it, then stepped forward as volunteer instructors.

All of the students have something in common, Jim Hall said: "They have 50-60 years of driving experience."

The AARP Driver Safety Course is the same around the country, and interest seems to be increasing.

Hall said the rise might be due to several factors, such as the number of people reaching the qualifying age of 50 and older, and car insurance discounts students receive after the course.

"A fun question to ask in class is: ‘How many of you are here because of the discount?'" Hall said. "And just watch the hands go up."

Typically there a 12 to 25 students in each class, and Hall said the program can use more instructors.

Places making space available for classes locally are Providence St. Mary Medical Center, Walla Walla General Hospital, Park Plaza Retirement, Odd Fellows and Sonbridge Community Center.

"We just need a DVD machine and space, table and chairs," Hall said.

The national program recently received a $13 million grant from Toyota Motor Corporation and also has an online version of the class.

Hall said he will be looking for more instructors, host organizations and of course, those who want to save money on their auto insurance by buffing up their driving skills.

The classroom course costs $12 for AARP members, $14 for non-members. Online courses are $15.95 for AARP members and $19.95 for non-members.

For more details on the AARP program, see www.aarp.org/home-garden/transportation/driver_safety/.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com

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