When you turn 16, it’s exciting because you are finally eligible to get a driver’s license.
When you turn 55, it’s (fill in emotion of your choice) because you’re now eligible to enroll in a driving safety course.
There are a number of names for it: defensive driving course, mature driver improvement course, smart driver course, etc. I just call it “old people’s driving class.”
There is on the table a standing offer of a 10 percent discount on auto insurance, which elevates it from a good idea to an action item.
Although it’s hard to argue against safety, the insurance discount is the clincher that makes it worth pursuing.
The first time around it’s a full eight-hour course. After that, you only need a four-hour refresher every three years.
There are a number of approved providers of these courses including AARP and AAA, as well as some more local organizations.
In this day of many choices, you can do it either in a classroom setting or, of course, online.
I did my first round over two evenings in Waconia; then opted for renewals online in my pajamas.
If you haven’t taken this class yet, it guides you through virtually every aspect of driving from traffic laws to vehicle maintenance to physical health issues to dealing with weather to driving etiquette to accident statistics, etc.
Both the classroom and online versions do a good job of mixing up the presentation format to keep your attention. It might be a stretch to call it entertaining, but at least it isn’t drudgery.
There are quizzes along the way, but it’s low-stress. You don’t have to actually pass the course, just complete the course which means if you put in the time, you’ll absorb enough of the information anyway to be valuable.
Which is why the government and insurance companies want you to do it.
I’ll admit I was there strictly for the discount, but then found myself reciting tidbits later in various driving situations.
One of my biggest take-aways was how to properly set the rear-view mirrors. I’m sure this was taught in high school driver’s training but it really opened my eyes to re-learn that if the mirror is in the correct position, you can see so much more of what is behind you.
The other big point I learned was about airbags. Fortunately, I’ve never been in a situation where an airbag deployed, so I’m glad to take the instructor’s word for it.
Although an airbag can do a tremendous job to prevent you from going through the windshield or smacking into metal parts, you can take a pretty stiff hit from the airbag itself.
Thus, it’s advisable to try to position yourself as far away from the steering wheel and airbag as you comfortably can. Each inch farther away works in your favor should an accident occur.
I found this interesting since I tend to sit pretty far back anyway. I’m just a little under average height, but I guess I really like my space because almost every time I drive a different vehicle, the first thing I do is move seat back, usually as far as it can go.
That’s just how I like it. Now I can blame it on the airbags.
All in all, brushing up on what we should know to drive safely is good for all of us.
Enjoy the course and make sure you get your discount!