By his own admission, Steve Bowe is obsessed. He checks his car mirrors every few seconds, looks over his shoulders a lot and counts in three-second intervals more often than most people can imagine.
It's all about driver safety, and Bowe is almost single-minded about it. "If I can save a life or prevent an accident, I'm thrilled," says Bowe, 60, an Army veteran from Lindenhurst, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 37 years until he retired in 2009.
When he wasn't driving a rig for the postal service, Bowe doubled as a safety instructor for USPS employees who drove jeeps, vans, trucks and tractor trailers. He gave defensive driving courses to employee family members for years, using creative touches to make the sessions upbeat and interesting.
Instructor of the Year
In retirement, Bowe has continued to teach driver safety courses at libraries, fire departments and corporations through a defensive driving school in Smithtown. And this year, the New York chapter of the not-for-profit National Safety Council that focuses on various safety issues across the country, named him Instructor of the Year. Bowe is scheduled to attend the national council's awards dinner in Chicago tonight to accept the honor.
For the past three years, Bowe's goal has been to drum up support for the passage of a state motor vehicle law requiring all backseat passengers regardless of age (not only those under age 16), to use seat belts. He's been in contact with State Sens. Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn), sponsor of the bill that is still in committee, and Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), a co-sponsor, to offer help in convincing the Legislature to pass the bill.
Boyle, who has met with Bowe, said, "I was impressed with him and his knowledge of thisissue . . . I commend him for his passion, and often times, it takes a committed individual to get a law passed . . . He has advanced the debate much further than it had been in the past, and I do think if we can pass this law as a result of his efforts, that it will save lives."
Bowe, who is married and has four children, says he urges people in his driver safety classes to ask their state legislators to vote for the bill. And no avenue for getting the word out is off limits to Bowe, who is better known as "Bobo" to radio fans of Howard Stern. As Bobo, Bowe, at times, has used his phone time with Stern to push his agenda on the seat belt issue. Neither Stern nor his representative responded to requests for comment.
Bowe credits much of his success as an instructor to the use of unusual techniques such as his "Stand-up, sit-down game." It focuses on bad habits of daily driving and begins with the entire class standing. As Bowe rattles off each driving error or bad habit, the offending driver sits. Do you run red lights or stop signs? Sit, please. Tailgate or take medications that make it dangerous to drive? Take a seat. Eventually, the entire class is back in their chairs.
"The game and use of other props help to break the ice with a class, loosen people up and most importantly keep people awake," says Bowe, who tries to prevent his sessions from becoming "snooze fests." Most of his classes are attended by drivers 50 and older. He jokes with them, saying, "Folks, you don't get this in the AARP class, do you?" But seriously, safety issues become more important as mature drivers begin to change physically, Bowe says. Poorer vision, medications and a more limited range of motion can all make driving less safe.
Bowe also uses demonstrations such as asking students to walk a straight line while wearing "fatal vision" goggles that simulate varying degrees of impairment from drugs or alcohol or even sleep deprivation. "I'm not that guy with one briefcase," Bowe says, referring to a typical defensive driving instructor who may walk into class with a pro forma folder of information for the course.
A Mineola grad
A graduate of Mineola High School, Bowe began his U.S. Postal Service career as a mail carrier in Hicksville. Quickly, he became a tractor trailer driver, eventually logging in more than 1 million miles, and teaching driver safety when he wasn't on the road. He and teaching partner Mike Alleva, 60, of Seaford, taught more than 400 defensive driver courses at the USPS and through the National Safety Council. Bowe, Alleva says, was "always trying to make his classes better."
Gene Fata, 57, craft director with the USPS' motor vehicle division, says Bowe's "middle name should be safety. No one is better than this man."
Bowe says that while safety tips apply to nearly everyone -- such as not speeding and tailgating or talking/texting on cellphones -- there are some things boomers and more mature drivers need to monitor as they age. Poorer vision, gradual loss of hearing, medications and a more limited range of motion can all make driving unsafe. "Follow your physicians' instructions for managing any chronic health conditions such as diabetes or seizures," Bowe says. "This will help you to stay behind the wheel." Sometimes, driving safely means not driving at night or adjusting medications.
James Solomon, the National Safety Council's Defensive Driving Program Development & Training director, says drivers need to monitor physical ailments because age-related conditions can frequently "sneak-up" without being noticed. "There is no real age when we 'become' senior citizens," Solomon says. "You are born. The next day you are one year older. Somewhere down the line as we age or mature, things [such as physical weaknesses] change for people."
Bowe, who teaches some classes through the National Safety Council and others through Anthony Palumbo at the Empire Safety Council in Smithtown, says that with a bit of effort, habitual mistakes while driving can be corrected. If you fail to check your mirrors frequently, be conscientious about looking in your rearview and side mirrors often and regularly until you do it without much thought. He also tells students to be alert for bad drivers. In class, he issues this warning: "Know in your mind that everyone out there is a total lunatic." And he's not kidding. Some drivers can be reckless, he warns, "Drive defensively."
A Stern guy
Probably the only thing that rivals Bowe's penchant for driver safety and passage of the rear passenger seat belt law is his dedication to Stern and his SiriusXM radio show. Bowe has been a Stern fan since the 1980s and calls in every day, sometimes waiting more than an hour for a chance to talk to the celebrity, who doesn't always pick up.
Bowe calls himself an "extreme fan" and has turned a room in the basement of his home into a shrine, filled top to bottom with Stern memorabilia.
"The show has helped me get through some rough times in my life," says Bowe, preferring not to elaborate. There are YouTube videos of Bowe (as Bobo) bantering with Stern in the radio studio, and even a Howard TV Q&A where he answers questions about himself from the show's fans. Stern and his staffers publicly make fun of Bowe's I.Q. (they gave him a "test") and his toupee (they asked him to take it off for one stunt). Despite the razzing, he remains a loyal Stern worshipper.
But Bowe, who says he thinks about safety "24 hours a day," including when he's on hold, hoping for an exchange with Stern, says his obsession with keeping drivers safe will always be his first love.
"My interest in driver safety started from Day One," Bowe says. "It never gets boring."
Tips for older divers
--Schedule regular vision and hearing tests. "Some senior drivers have come into my driving class and told me they find it hard to see road signs at night or even a stop sign," Bowe says. Such issues should be addressed right away to treat any age-related vision problems such as, cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration.
--Always turn your head and look over your shoulder before turning or changing lanes, and "never expect that you will be given the right of way, even if you know it ought to be given to you," Bowe says. "Always maintain a minimum of three seconds following distance" between you and the vehicle ahead.
--Deal with your limitations. If your hands hurt when gripping the wheel, then use a steering wheel cover to help make it easier to turn the wheel, as well as hold the wheel. "It's important to be comfortable behind the wheel," Bowe says, "especially for extended periods of daily driving."
--Stay active. This can help with skills needed to maintain alertness on the road, such as turning your head to see oncoming traffic.
--When purchasing a new vehicle, look for safety features. Front driver and passenger air bags provide protection in head-on collisions, says James Solomon of the National Safety Council. Side or "curtain" air bags provide protection in side-impact collisions. Head restraints prevent your head from being snapped back in a rear-end collision.
For information about Steve Bowe's driver safety classes, call 516-526-2124, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Classes for individuals are about $28 per person.