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AARP Smart Driver Courses: Online, For Now

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For years, older motorists have enjoyed the give-and-take of in-person AARP Smart Driver courses, but instructor Jeannie Enders said she likes the new virtual class she leads, and most of her students agree.  

“The majority prefer to take the class in the comfort of their own home,” said Enders, 65, of Surprise. A retired accountant for Safeway, she has taught Smart Driver classes since 2018.

They have been online only during the pandemic, and Enders said that option is so popular she expects it will continue to be offered even after in-person classes resume (now scheduled for September).

The four-hour course is aimed at refreshing the skills of drivers 50 and older but is open to anyone. It costs $20 for AARP members and $25 for nonmembers, and most people take it to get the reduction in insurance rates that some companies offer. Consult your insurance agent for details. 

Retaking it every three years is required to keep the discount. The curriculum is updated regularly, and Enders said students have told her that they learn something new every time.   

Volunteer instructor Robin Mandell, 65, of Sun City West, prefers face-to-face sessions. A retired human resources professional, she has taught about 140 classes since 2008 and is ready for in-person lessons to restart.

“It’s so gratifying when people come up after class and tell you it was much more interesting than they expected,” Mandell said. 

Adopting safe habits

The course covers traffic safety tips, such as avoiding left turns (“Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights do make a left”), and “habits you can use to avoid getting in a collision,” said volunteer John Case, 67, of Peoria. 

The Air Force retiree has been teaching classes for nine years and serves as AARP Driver Safety’s deputy state coordinator, a role in which he oversees
instructor recruitment and training. Case is also on its Volunteer National Advisory Council, which helps develop policies and standards for AARP’s programs. 

Smart Driver is one of several offerings that have made AARP a leader in driver education. The organization also provides a
self-paced online version of Smart Driver as well as these three free workshops:

CarFit: This interactive 15- to 20-minute session shows drivers how to properly adjust their car seats, belts, mirrors and steering wheels. “I’ve had widows come in driving their late husband’s car,” Case said. “By the time we are done adjusting the vehicle to fit them, they have tears of joy running down their faces. They’re so much more confident driving.” 

We Need to Talk: This seminar helps caregivers and loved ones determine when an older person should no longer be driving, offering ideas on  how to broach the subject. 

Smart DriverTEK: In 90 minutes, it covers current automotive technology and safety features, including onboard navigation, backup cameras, lane-
departure warnings, and blind spot and drowsy-driver alerts. 

Rose Morra, 73, of Sun Lakes, who teaches this workshop, said anyone about to buy a new car should take it: “You learn what you really need so you know how to customize your vehicle.” 

For more on Smart Driver and these other AARP programs, go to aarp.org/drive

Miriam Davidson is a writer living in Tucson.

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