Seniors are experienced drivers, typically with decades of successful driving behind the wheel. But that also means it's probably been decades since you've completed any formal driver training, and at a mature age, you may face new physical challenges that change the way you approach driving. Defensive driving courses can offer you an update on essential driving skills that can help you reduce risk, prevent accidents, and keep you on the road for years to come.
Why Seniors Need Defensive Driving Education
You probably completed driver training courses as a teenager, and have honed your skills with many years of experience on the road. But even the safest, most experienced driver can learn a few new safety tips here and there. Plus, laws and safety rules may have changed significantly since you last learned them, and technological advances in vehicles have almost certainly changed within the last few decades -- even the last few months! Seniors often take defensive driving courses for:
- Updates to laws and safety information
- Refreshing skills
- Improving established driving habits
- The effects of aging on driving
- The use of medications while driving
- Vehicle maintenance recommendations
- Insurance discounts
Insurance Discounts for Mature Drivers
While safe driving is typically the ultimate goal for most senior drivers enrolled in defensive driving courses, completing the course often comes with a great perk: hefty discounts on insurance premiums.
Most insurance companies offer discounts for mature drivers who have completed voluntary defensive driving courses. The discounts range from 1% to 15%, and are usually 10%, though it varies depending on the individual insurance company and state. Most will allow seniors to complete the defensive driving course for a discount every three years and renew on a continual basis for updated knowledge and a fresh discount.
Are You Eligible for Defensive Driving Education?
Often, drivers enroll in defensive driving courses to remove or reduce the penalty of a traffic violation, but anyone can enroll. You don't have to wait until trouble finds you to become a safer driver. Defensive driving courses are open to all, and some states offer special mature driver programs with education tailored specifically to older drivers.
To qualify for insurance discounts, you'll typically need to meet certain criteria that allows you to be identified as a safe mature driver. Eligibility for mature defensive driving discounts usually requires:
- Driver must be age 55 or older
- Safe driving record free of recent accidents or moving violations
- Insurance company that offers a discount on premiums to safe mature drivers
- Successful completion of a defensive driving course
Defensive Driving Courses Available for Seniors
In some states, your defensive driving course will be the same as the course offered to traffic violators and students brushing up on skills, but in others, you can take advantage of courses tailored specifically to mature drivers. Specialty defensive driving courses for seniors may include:
- Smart Driver: Offered by AARP, this course offers additional training in focus areas where older drivers may need a little help, including stop sign use, roundabouts, turn signals, and pavement markings. AARP's course offers reader friendly print types and opportunities to access state specific information.
- Mature Driver Safety Course: This course focuses on safe driving in particular. Topics include risky driving behaviors, defensive driving skills, the abilities of older drivers, and the use of medications while driving.
- Seasoned Driver Training Programs: Learn basic crash prevention techniques with this course designed for experienced drivers. Using lecture, films, and discussions, you'll learn how to avoid traffic violations and stop accidents before they start.
What You'll Learn in Defensive Driving Education Courses for Seniors
At every age, defensive driving courses teach drivers how to drive more safely. They focus on defensive tactics, crash avoidance, and driver attitudes. Often, defensive driving courses for seniors will include topics such as:
- How aging affects your driving
- Updated laws and regulations
- Limiting distractions while driving
- The use of safety restraints including air bags and seat belts
- How medications, alcohol, and drugs may affect your driving
- Why it's important to maintain a safe vehicle
- How to avoid accidents
Ultimately, your defensive driving course should teach you how to be a safer, more responsible driver at any age.
Tips for Senior Drivers
According to the CDC, the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident increases as you age, and each day, an average of 500 older adults are injured and 15 older adults are killed every day in auto accidents. Those older than 75 are most at risk, as well as those with age related declines in vision, cognitive functioning, and physical changes that may affect driving abilities. While some risk factors can't be avoided, there are some steps you can take to be a safer mature driver:
- Use a seat belt: Good advice for drivers and passengers of every age, wearing a seat belt can save your life. While it may not prevent accidents, it can help keep you safer in the event of a crash and turn what might have been a fatal accident into a minor injury.
- Drive during safe conditions: If your driving skills aren't what they used to be, consider staying home during challenging driving conditions, such as darkness, heavy rain, snow, or ice, and during busy driving times like rush hour.
- Never drink and drive: Impaired driving is a bad idea at any age, but it's especially important for mature drivers to stay safe and avoid driving if you've had anything to drink.
- Be cautious with new medications: If you're on a new medication or have just changed your dosage, carefully monitor your driving abilities. Often, medications can have an effect on your alertness and ability to react while driving, and it's best not to drive until you're sure you can do so safely. Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about medications that may impact your ability to drive.
- Exercise regularly: Frequent exercise can help keep you physically and mentally fit, increasing your strength, flexibility, and alertness.
- Have your eyes and ears checked: Your eyes may not be as clear as they once were, but vision is essential to safe driving. Have your vision checked at least annually, and wear glasses or corrective lenses if needed. It's a good idea to schedule hearing tests as well and use a hearing aid if necessary.
- Use assistive devices: If you have physical limitations, ask your doctor what can be done to make your driving safer, such as a steering wheel grip, tools that make it easier to operate foot pedals, or a new vehicle with larger, more easy to read dials.
- Get enough sleep: Drowsy driving is dangerous at any age. Be sure that you're getting enough sleep, and work to improve your sleeping conditions if you're struggling to rest.
- Honestly admit when you are unable to drive: You may be able to continue to drive for years, even decades more, but part of being a safe driver is understanding and accepting when it is no longer safe to operate a vehicle. Visit AARP's Talking With Older Drivers module to assess your driving skills and objectively consider whether you're still able to drive safely.
How to Find a Defensive Driving Education Program for Mature Drivers
Interested in improving your driving skills and earning a discount on insurance for safe driving? Our directory has approved defensive driving schools with comprehensive programs available to mature drivers.