(June 26, 2019) Catherine Read talks to Bervin Elliott and Pamela Houghtaling about the AARP Driver Safety Program. They are both volunteer instructors for the Virginia course, which is an effort to keep seniors safe on the road. Launched as “55 Alive” back in 1979, the AARP Driver Safety Program is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Elliott and Houghtaling are both seasoned instructors, and Elliott is the volunteer leader for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The 8-hour course is offered both online and in person, but both instructors emphasize that students get the most out of joining an in-person class if possible. They strongly believe that students benefit from the discussions and interactions that they have with one another.
Topics covered in the class are wide and varied. They talk about everything from eyesight change, to the effects of medication on driving, to how weather conditions affect the road, to how reflexes change as people age. The classes allow students to bring up their real-life challenges, and provide a safe place to work through the challenges that they face. The instructors also offer strategies for drivers to help them cope with difficult traffic situations, which come on a daily basis here in Northern Virginia.
In addition, the instructors review changes in driving laws. Every year there are updates and changes to the rules of the road. This class comprehensively covers the existing laws, as well as any new changes or updates in order to ensure compliance and safety. They cover rules about cell phone usage, bike lanes, roundabouts (traffic circles) and how to share the road with other users.
The instructors also discuss transportation options, so seniors are aware of all of the different modes of transportation in their community, in case that they do not feel comfortable driving. AARP also offers a separate course entitled “We Need to Talk” that covers how to talk to an aging parent about when it is appropriate to stop driving.
The “Smart DriverTEK Workshop,” another separate course offering, helps seniors understand and properly utilize the technologies in newer vehicles. The workshop covers things like backup cameras, blind spot monitors, brake assist and lane correction are all newer features and can be overwhelming for seniors to try and understand on their own. This online course breaks down the features, how they work, and why they are useful for drivers.
The AARP Driver Safety course is an 8-hour program. If it is taken in person it can be administered over 1 or 2 days. An online version of the course is also available. If you cannot find a class in your neighborhood, you can contact AARP to set up your own course– groups have held class in community centers, clubhouses and community rooms in apartment buildings.
The cost is very reasonable – – AARP members pay $15 for the in-person class and $19.95 for the online course. Non-members pay $20 for the in-person class and $24.95 for the online version. Once the class is completed, participants can submit the certificate of completion to their insurance company and receive a discount on premiums.