AARP honors popular driving instructor Clara Sipe

Lake County Leader | January 14, 2021 12:20 AM

Clara Sipe of Polson Senior Center was recently named Montana 2020 Driver Safety Instructor Volunteer of the Year by AARP. She was recognized for 37 years leading the driver safety course for drivers over age 50.

Sipe was first recommended to AARP after retiring from a career with the U.S. Forest Service, living in Lolo. She moved to Polson in 1987, and continued to lead the course every other month through February 2020, when the course was put on hold due to the pandemic.

“I don’t teach driving,” Sipe said. “We discuss ‘what would you do in this situation.’ ” She said many older people first learned to drive when cars were slower, and many roads were gravel or narrow with slower speed limits. The course involves 4.5 hours of video and discussion.

The course is taught throughout the U.S. Those who complete it qualify for an auto insurance discount, with the amount based on individual state laws.

Sipe is a popular facilitator, and is often requested by name.

“I involve the class,” she said. “I’ve never had one go to sleep on me.”

Sipe said the course has been so popular that some people have taken it as many as three times over the years.

“It’s the most enjoyable class I’ve ever had,” Sipe said. It is a good chance to “meet new people or old friends.”

Some of the topics covered in the driver safety course include: the effects of medication on driving; how to reduce driver distractions; proper following distance behind another car; proper use of safety belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and new technology found in cars today; techniques for handling left turns, right-of-way, and roundabouts; and how to adjust your driving to compensate for age-related physical changes.

Depending on the status of the coronavirus and vaccines, Polson classes may resume in March. And yes, at 91, Clara Sipe still plans to be a course instructor. Notices for the classes are posted at the Polson Senior Center.