A Gold Canyon resident received a national award from AARP for his efforts in improving the driving skills of thousands of people across the East Valley.
Tom Burch received the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) national volunteer of the year award for his work in the organization’s driver safety initiative. Burch earned the recognition despite being one of 10,000 driving instructors AARP uses across the country.
What separates Burch from other instructors is the number of students he’s worked with, as Burch has taught 263 courses and more than 5,100 residents across the East Valley from Tempe to Globe.
His involvement with driving safety goes back almost 30 years to a stretch spent at the Arizona Department of Transportation. He spent approximately 15 years there before he started volunteering with AARP, which he’s now done for almost 15 years as well.
“That was a natural then to move into the driver’s program for AARP,” he said.
Aside from those two groups, Burch has devoted his free time to government agencies and other organizations to help drivers and even pedestrians. Of the latter, he said one program he worked on led to the installation of digital timers for crosswalks that benefit walkers and even drivers. He also managed to get those timers installed in areas with a higher percent of residents over the age of 65.
“I was very pleased over that aspect,” he said.
His work with AARP is now based on instruction through the AARP’s Driver Safety program, in particular a smart driver course tailored for seniors. The lessons, which are part of a two-year study where older drivers need the most assistance, offers lessons about adapting to new technology in cars and how to fit properly in a vehicle. Burch noted the classes provide an outline of the differences between driving regulations in states, which help temporary residents differentiate what they can do in Arizona.
The purpose, he said, is to get older drivers and the occasional young attendees more attuned to their driving.
“Those kinds of things are important because so many people haven’t looked in their driver’s manual since they got their license, or ever,” he said.
They can also continue a recent trend that has seen the crash and fatality rates for senior citizens diminish. Burch said a number of factors like better health for seniors and safer vehicles have attributed to that, but even programs such as the one he teaches could help.
“I like to think the driver safety program has had a small role in that,” he said.
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