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Dorothy Johnson, 78, has been driving for nearly 60 years and wants to remain behind the wheel as long as she safely can.
That’s why the retired teacher from Memphis values AARP’s Smart Driver course, which she’s taken several times over the years.
“I hope to continue to drive as long as I’m well enough—physically, mentally and emotionally,” Johnson said.
The Smart Driver course can be completed in a classroom or online. Given the pandemic, classroom courses are temporarily suspended; however, AARP is offering a 25 percent discount until Aug. 31 for the online version, using the promotion code DRIVINGSKILLS. Sign up at aarpdriversafety.org.
According to state law, drivers 55 and older who complete either course and maintain a safe driving record may be eligible for a three-year reduction in their car insurance premiums. The amount of the discount depends on the carrier.
The discount gets people in the door, said George Coleman, 83, of Bartlett, state coordinator for the AARP Driver Safety program. But his students also come away with handy tips to maintain their driving ability.
“Older people value their independence so they don’t have to rely on relatives for transportation,” Coleman said.
He begins his classes by asking participants to evaluate their driving: Do they feel like people are honking at them all the time? Do they ever get lost on roads that should be familiar?
Students also learn how medication may interfere with driving. In addition, the course covers new-car technologies, reaction time, road conditions and how declining vision and hearing might affect older drivers.
“A lot of people who have taken my class will say, ‘Your class made me more aware of how I’m driving,’” Coleman said.
Courses Made to Fit
With the online Smart Driver course, students can work at their own pace. Once registered, drivers have 60 days to complete the coursework. The online class costs $19.95 for members and $24.95 for nonmembers, but with the special discount through August, the member price is $14.95.
The eight-hour classroom course, usually taught over two days, costs $20 for AARP members and $25 for nonmembers
In addition to Smart Driver, AARP offers three related Driver Safety programs.
CarFit, developed by occupational therapists and available by appointment, shows drivers how to properly adjust their seats, mirrors and steering wheel.
We Need to Talk is an online seminar that helps caregivers and adult children assess if an older relative should give up their keys, and offers advice for that often difficult conversation.
Smart DriverTEK, also available online, focuses on new-car technologies and outlines safety features such as lane-departure warnings, drowsy-driver alerts and blind spot warnings.
CarFit, We Need to Talk and Smart DriverTEK are free.
Find classes at aarp.org/drive or call 877-846-3299.
AARP Tennessee is always looking for Smart Driver course instructors.
Anyone interested in volunteering is advised to first take the class and then sign up at aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/volunteer.
Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.
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