90 Year Old Driving Instructor in North Carolina Calls It Quits

December 15, 2008

Cars change. Roads change. So do drivers.

Dick Conover of Emerald Isle spent more than 20 years helping drivers 55 and older recognize and adjust to these changes. He retired in early December as an instructor of AARP’s Driver Safety Program in North Carolina.

Conover celebrated his 90th birthday with his last class of students and closed out the two-day session at the Leon Mann Enrichment Center in Morehead City with handshakes and words of thanks.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people,” he said. “They are so responsive. It makes you feel good when they say ‘thank you.’ I’m going to miss that part.”

But change is part of what the program is about.

The Daily News of Jacksonville reported that initially known as “55 Alive,” the program was started to help aging drivers remain safe on the road.

“AARP had done research and what they found was that age 55 is when things begin to happen,” he said. “What changes is eyesight, hearing and reaction time.”

The Driver Safety Program is both a refresher course to keep drivers up on the rules of the road and a source of safety tips and steps drivers can take to compensate for new challenges they may face at the wheel.

“It’s defensive driving and alerting you to what’s happening out there,” Conover said.

For Dot Reist of Emerald Isle, Conover’s last course was her first.

Reist said she has become hesitant to drive in heavy traffic and felt the course would be good for her. With tips on everything from avoiding blind spots around vehicles to making safe turns, she left impressed with the information provided.

“They are common sense things; the course just refreshes you,” she said. “I would recommend it and probably, in a few years, take it again.”

Ed and Dot Fleming, who live off N.C. 24 west of Morehead City, have taken the course several times. They are able to get insurance discounts by doing so, but they also value the reminder of ways to be careful on the road.

And after three or four courses, there is also praise of their longtime instructor for his work.

“He’s a former teacher and he’s done a superb job,” Ed Fleming said.

Conover estimates the Flemings are among the 2,000 or so students he’s taught as a driving safety instructor.

“This is the sixth edition of the workbook, and I started with edition three,” jokes Conover.

Conover was serving as president of the White Oak River chapter of the AARP when he heard about the program, which started in North Carolina in 1984.

“It sounded like something I’d like to do and I got hooked on it,” he said.

When he started, he was the only instructor in eastern North Carolina and covered seven counties from Goldsboro to Carteret County.

As Conover turns over his duties, Don Helsabeck of Morehead City prepares to take over future courses in Carteret County on a solo basis.

Helsabeck, who was introduced to the course as a student, has been working at Conover’s side for the past two years.

Keeping drivers out of wrecks and out of harm’s way has been their goal.

“That’s what makes me feel good about doing this,” Helsabeck said.

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