By Julie E. Lee, Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety in the Education & Outreach groupJulie Lee

Life on the road looks quite a bit different today than it did when most of us older drivers got our driver’s licenses. Formal driver’s education – or “driver’s ed” courses – first became available in the U.S. in the 1930s, and just as the rules of the road, automobiles and roadway infrastructure are constantly changing, so too are the safety strategies taught to drivers.

You may be an experienced driver and familiar with the basic principles of driving, but consider these four things you may not have learned in driver’s ed.

  1. Brain health is essential to driver safety.  Drivers need to have quick reaction times, good memory and judgment, and the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. And our brains develop on a curve: Just as teenaged drivers can be hazards to themselves because they haven’t yet developed judgment and concentration, as we age, reaction times and memory often slip. To stay mentally fit, AARP Driver Safety recommends that you engage frequently in new and challenging activities to sharpen your mind. Visit AARP’s Brain Health Center (www.aarp.org/health/brain-health) to learn more about the issue and to find exercises that can help keep your mind sharp – and keep you safe on the road.
  2. How to navigate a roundabout. One-third of fatal crashes involving older drivers occur at traditional intersections. Because roundabouts are safer, easier to maintain and more environmentally  friendly, they are becoming common on U.S. roads – and they are here to stay. At roundabouts, vehicles travel counterclockwise around a center island, with entering traffic yielding the right-of-way to circulating traffic. If there are multiple lanes, observe the signs and pavement markings to determine which lane to use before entering the roundabout. Generally, left turns should be made from the left lane or other lanes that are signed and marked as left turn lanes. If making a right turn, stay in the right lane or other lanes that are signed and marked as right turn lanes. And as a general rule, remember that right-of-way is something you give – not something you take.
  3. A proper “fit” behind the wheel is impartant. You may have learned how to adjust your seat and mirrors in driver’s ed, but your best “fit” has probably changed as you have gotten older and moved from vehicle to vehicle. Because older adults are more likely to be seriously injured – or even killed – when a crash occurs, finding the right fit is increasingly important with age. In general, you should have a clear line of sight over the steering wheel (at least three inches), 10 or more inches between your chest and the center of the steering wheel, and the top of your head restraint should be even with the top of your head or as high as it can be adjusted. To learn more, attend a free CarFit event in your community, where a volunteer technician will take you through a 12-point checklist with your vehicle and recommend minor adjustments that will help make your car safer and more comfortable. Learn more at www.car-fit.org.
  4. How to plan for a time when driving may no longer be an option. Most 50+ drivers don’t plan for a future when they may be unable to drive safely. In one Florida transportation study, more than 90 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds surveyed reported that they have no “transportation retirement plan.” (And while most 50- to 64-year-olds probably have plenty of time left to plan, a still whopping 83 percent of respondents 65 and older had no plan.) If you want to remain independent and able to engage in activities you enjoy, it’s important to identify transportation options in your area long before hanging up the keys. Do you have family or friends nearby? Does your community offer affordable and reliable public transportation, taxis or car services? Would it be safe for you to walk or bike to the places you need to go? The sooner you begin to consider your options, the better off you’ll be.

These tips and more are covered in the new AARP Smart Driver Course – AARP Driver Safety’s flagship offering and the nation’s first and largest refresher course designed specifically for older drivers. The AARP Smart Driver Course is available in a classroom and online, in both English and Spanish. In some states, you may even be eligible for a multi-year insurance discount upon completion of the course.*

For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).

*The insurance premium discount is not available in all states for the online or the classroom versions of the course. Please consult your insurance agent for further details.

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Julie E. Lee is Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She directs the largest driver improvement course in America designed for drivers age 50 and older. She can be reached at jelee@aarp.org.