UNION COUNTY — For the Rev. Bill Strong, the road to becoming an instructor for the American Association of Retired Persons’ driver safety course began as a teenager when he got his driver’s license to assist his father but didn’t initially use that privilege responsibly.
Strong, pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, announced this week that he will be teaching the AARP driver safety class in October in the church’s seminar room.
“The nation’s first and largest classroom refresher course on driver safety, sponsored by AARP, will be held in Union on Wednesday, October 2,” Strong said. “The class will meet from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an hour for lunch, for a total of six hours of classroom instruction. Although the class is primarily designed for persons age 50 and up, anyone with a driver’s license may take the class.”
Strong has been an AARP instructor for 11 years, but admits that when he first started driving as a teenager his driving practices often brought him to the attention of the authorities.
“My dad was a car dealer so getting a driver’s license made me an asset to the business,” Strong said. “I say this tongue in cheek because as a teenager I got a lot of tickets.”
Despite this rocky start, Strong was soon able to be of real service to his father’s business.
“I don’t remember when it happened, but I got my chauffeur’s license which allowed me to drive a bigger vehicle,” Strong said. “He sold tractor-trailers and so I was able to drive those for servicing.”
Strong then went on to college and when he graduated he began his career as a minister which gave him a chance to again put his chauffeur’s license to use.
“At that time my church had what is called a disaster trailer,” Strong said. “It’s a huge semi stocked with water, toiletries, and food to go into a disaster area. I had a chauffeur’s license so I was asked to drive that 18-wheeler.”
While he did drive the disaster trailer, Strong said he didn’t actually drive it to any disaster area. He said he instead spent the summer driving it to fairs for display.
A few years later, Strong said that while continuing his ministerial career he became the principal of a Christian school where, in addition to his administrative and teaching duties, he found yet another opportunity to make use of his experience driving large vehicles. Before he could do that, however, he had to get yet another license.
“The school had a bus which I wanted to drive on the field trips,” Strong said. “This was in the 1980s when the whole nation was transforming from the state chauffeur’s licenses to CDLs. I had to go through the training, got my CDL, and drove the bus.”
His experience driving a school bus was to land Strong an extra job during his school’s summer break. Strong said that it was during a field trip to a ski lodge that he was asked about the bus. He said he told the man who asked him that he was the driver. The man then told him that he was the owner of a charter bus business line and was always looking for drivers. That summer, Strong, while still continuing his ministerial career, drove charter buses, adding yet another vehicle to his repertoire.
Unlike his teenage years after he got his license, Strong’s driving record since those days had been without blemish until one day when he thought he was driving the speed limit but was advised by a police officer that he wasn’t. The experience, however, would lead to Strong becoming an AARP instructor.
“I was driving down a street where the speed limit was 25 miles per hour but I was doing 45 miles an hour,” Strong said. “I was pulled over and I told the officer that I thought I was going the speed limit, something I’m sure he’d heard from a lot of drivers.
“I had zero points on my license and I didn’t want to go back to when I was a teenager,” he said. “The officer then told me that in that city if I took a defensive driver’s course the judge would dismiss the ticket. I took the class.”
Strong said that not only did he take the course, he “thoroughly enjoyed it, I learned a lot.” He said he enjoyed it so much that when he heard AARP was offering defensive driving classes he took it “just for fun” to compare it with the other course.
“During the class they said they are always looking for volunteers to become teachers,” Strong said. “So I signed up and I’ve been teaching now for 11 years.”
Strong said he usually teaches the AARP driver safety class twice a year. He said the course has evolved over the years from eight hours to six hours.
“It’s strictly a classroom course that goes from 9 a.m. to noon with an hour off for lunch and then from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.,” Strong said. “The main focus is on reviewing basic driving skills. The other is age-related such as vision, hearing, and reaction time.
“We have a pre-test and a post-test that people take at their seats, these are self-administered tests,” he said. “If you take the course for the entire six hours you receive your certificate.”
Strong said that those who complete the course and receive their certificate qualify for a discount on their auto insurance.
“You will get a discount on your insurance by taking the course,” Strong said. “The amount varies from company to company but in South Carolina they must give you a discount.”
The course fee is $14 per person, or $12 if they are a member of AARP. Class size is limited to 25 people. You may register by calling 864-427-8852. The Seventh Day Adventist Church is located at 1437 Jonesville Highway, Union.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.