This way you drive safer and save money

Editor’s note: editorial represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently of the newsroom.

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Further training is important – especially for professions or activities that require a permit. These activities include driving. And while additional classes can make the roads safer and reduce insurance costs, participation in them is voluntary.

Thousands of older Minnesota drivers are unable to update their driving skills, the Star Tribune reported this week. According to state officials, in 2020 Minnesota had more than 1.5 million drivers ages 55 and older — about 20% of all licensed drivers in the state. But only a quarter of them had completed a course that can reduce their insurance costs by 10% annually.

This is a significant missed opportunity. To avoid accidents and protect themselves and other motorists while saving money, more Minnesota drivers should enroll in the 55+ courses.

Too many older drivers believe that they learned everything they need to know by taking their driver’s test decades ago, or that years of experience on the road is enough. But the reality is that road rules and conditions change over time, and most motorists can become safer drivers with education.

Most people believe they are good drivers and that all problems are caused by other motorists, said Lisa Kons, director of the Minnesota Safety Council’s road safety program, an editorial author. Even if that were true, she says, the courses offer great defensive driving tips.

“The driving world around us is changing,” said Kons. “The streets are different [for example] Roundabouts and J-Turns – things that didn’t exist years ago. New laws are being passed and these courses are a great refresher.” She added that some older drivers might benefit from learning about the child seats they need for grandchildren or how to spot colored road stripes.

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And older drivers may be reluctant to admit that they, too, have changed. As we age, reaction times, depth perception, vision problems, and medications can affect driving. Safety courses teach strategies for dealing with the physical changes of aging.

In 2011, drivers over the age of 60 were involved in 13% of all accidents in Minnesota. By 2019, the percentage had grown to 16%. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, injuries in this age group increased from 8% to 20% of the total and deaths from 21% to 30%.

AARP research shows that 97% of participants change at least one driving habit after completing the course. According to Alan Ainsworth, Assistant State Coordinator for Minnesota AARP Driver Safety and volunteer instructor, nearly 80% said what they learned saved them from an accident. He told the Star Tribune that the current staging of National Senior Driver Safety Awareness Week is an opportunity to raise awareness of the effectiveness and accessibility of the courses.

Classes for first-time participants last eight hours and are often spread over two days, Ainsworth said. The refresher courses required every three years to maintain the insurance discount last only four hours. Courses can be taken online or in person and are offered by AARP, the Minnesota Safety Council and AAA at multiple locations across the state. It’s easy to find a time, place, and class that fits any schedule.

The annual savings of 10% on car insurance for the graduates of the training is required by the state. If you are 55 or older, take the course. You save money – and possibly lives.

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