Getting "temps," and tooling around in deserted parking lots with a driving instructor and a half-dozen orange plastic cones are rites of passage for most teens. But they're not the only ones dreading the maneuverability test and eyeing highway entry ramps nervously.

There are enough student drivers in the over-30 crowd, even in the over-60 crowd, to keep Doug Loughead, manager of operations for AAA Driving School busy doing driver assessments.

"We get about one new driver a month over 50," he says.

The big difference is that the older the driver, the more cautious — and sometimes scared — they are.

"The younger ones are more fearless. They never think anything will happen to them. Older people are a lot more concerned about accidents and are more cautious. If the speed limit says 35 mph, they do 25 mph. "

"I had a guy in Delhi who was terrified. He literally would sweat through the lessons and grip the wheel white-knuckled. His wife had done the driving most of his life and when the kids went to college she divorced him. He came to AAA because, he said, 'my girlfriend is getting tired of doing all the driving.' He relaxed after about eight hours of lessons and eventually passed."

Anissa Lewis, 35, of Covington, can relate to that. She never got around to getting her license as a kid. She moved to the east coast for school where she easily traveled by public transit. After returning in 2005, she realized "not having a car in the Midwest is not an option" and decided to take lessons.

The fear "was more in my head than anything else," says the adjunct professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in Over-the-Rhine. She had no intention of getting into traffic her first lesson with Bobby Justice of U-Drive Driving School in Florence. They started out in a closed cinema parking lot and "low and behold I was out in traffic by the end of the lesson," says Lewis.

Rosemary Schneider of St. Bernard was 66 when she decided to get behind the wheel in 2009, about five months after her husband, the family driver, passed away.

"It was scarier than I thought. I was behind the wheel knowing it was a lethal weapon. I probably drove too defensively, always watching the other guy. The older you get the more precious you realize life is."

Maneuverability, lane changing and judging distances are three areas that give older drivers a bit more of a challenge, says Paul Bouldin, in his early 70s, who teaches driving for Driver Ed Academy after 35 years and more than two million safe driving miles with UPS.

"It might be judging distances that has something to do with it," he says, "or being able to turn and look over your shoulder easily to check the blind spot before changing lanes. I try to get them familiar with checking the mirrors constantly to see where the other guy is."

"Using the eyes correctly is a big item for older drivers especially," Loughead says. "Driving is a thinking person's exercise. You have to be in the game mentally and stay focused.

"Older drivers probably don't pick up the physical skills as quickly as youngsters," says Julie Dunn, owner of Driver Ed Academy. "They are sharp mentally but their reflexes are slower." She concentrates on parking lot skills including turning, braking and accelerating. "It just takes a little more practice."

Schneider's fear didn't subside quickly. But as her self-confidence grew so did her skills, though she did have trouble with maneuverability confessing that her legs "felt like rubber bands" the day she took her test — and passed — six months ago.

"I've calmed down a lot and I never dreamed I'd enjoy driving as much as I do. My family is thrilled to death. Lewis says the secret is to take her time.
"Then I get in the car and say a prayer that I don't hurt myself or anyone else."