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Driver Safety Course Offers Road Skills Refresher in Tennessee

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A lot has changed since Linda Wamble first started driving at age 16. Speed limits have increased. New vehicles come with backup cameras, lane-departure warnings and a host of other safety features that alert drivers to dangers. 

Even though she considers herself a skilled motorist, the 72-year-old from Bartlett has had to make adjustments over the years, such as avoiding driving at night because of poor vision.

Wamble took one of AARP’s Smart Driver courses last year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She did it solely to get a discount on her auto insurance, but, as it turned out, the class instruction helped her brush up on driving skills she learned long ago.

“As good as a driver as I am, you forget things,” said Wamble, who is a retired regional vice president of a financial institution.  

The refresher course includes basics such as the proper following distance behind another car and state-specific laws. It’s geared toward older motorists but is open to anyone. 

Smart Driver courses have been online only the past year because of the pandemic. AARP Tennessee hopes to resume in-person classes in September if it’s safe to do so, said George Coleman, 84, of Bartlett, volunteer state coordinator for the AARP Driver Safety program.

Meanwhile, people can take the course online by signing up through aarpdriversafety.org. Tennessee drivers 55 and older can get a three-year discount on their auto insurance if they take the course and maintain a safe driving record. Discounts typically vary from 5 to 10 percent off.

Getting a road refresher

Some may believe older drivers are more likely to be involved in auto accidents, compared with the rest of the population, but research shows that’s not the case. 

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that, per licensed driver, motorists in their 70s were less likely to be in fatal crashes and, per mile traveled, were in fewer police- reported wrecks  than middle- aged drivers.

New safety features on vehicles and the fact that older drivers are not as likely to engage in risky behaviors (like speeding or driving while intoxicated) are believed to be among the reasons for decreasing crash rates, said Jessica Cicchino, vice president for research at the institute. 

Still, she cautioned that some older motorists may need to reassess their abilities.

AARP’s Driver Safety program offers an online seminar called We Need to Talk that helps caregivers and adult children determine if an older relative should no longer be behind the wheel, and offers advice for how to have that difficult conversation about when it’s time to stop driving.

The eight-hour self-paced online Smart Driver course offers a skills refresher, including information such as how to adjust your driving because of age-related physical changes, the effect of medication on driving, car safety technology, techniques for making left turns and how to reduce distractions. 

Participants have 60 days to finish the course, which costs $21.95 for AARP members and $27.95 for nonmembers.

AARP is always looking for volunteers to help teach Smart Driver classes. Learn more at aarp.org/drive, email drive@aarp.org or call 800-569-1658.  

Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.

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