Driver’s Ed: The Sequel

Winter is a good time for a skills tune-up

I was doing the speed limit of 60 mph on a two-lane stretch of U.S. Highway 101 last summer when I suddenly felt I had landed in a James Bond movie. Just as one driver legally passed me on the left, another oh-so-illegally roared by on my right, doing at least 80 on the narrow shoulder. While I was stirred by this dangerous move, I was not shaken. I credit the driving refresher class I took earlier this year.

How long have you been driving? Forty years? Fifty years? Maybe even 60 or 70 years? However long it’s a good bet your driving skills and knowledge could use a tune-up.

For one thing, the roads—and some rules of the road—have changed. Joel Ferguson has been teaching Smart Driver courses as a volunteer for AARP Washington since 2018, and, he says, “almost everybody learns something about the law that they didn’t know.” Take traffic circles: These roundabouts are popping up everywhere in the United States, but unless you learned how to drive in Great Britain, they can be perplexing.

Our vehicles have changed, too, and some techniques we learned decades ago no longer apply. For example, placing your hands on the steering wheel at “10-and-2-o’clock” is unsafe because of air bags. Your rearview mirrors, seat, and steering wheel probably need safety adjustments, too. Ferguson is inspired when he sees students’ eyes light up over something they didn’t know—and he’s always happy to hear when people feel more relaxed behind the wheel.

Older drivers are among the safest on the road, but we’re also more likely to be badly hurt in an accident, so the course helps us recognize how we may someday need to reduce our time on the road or hang up our keys for good.
“The goal of the class is not necessarily to keep you driving forever, but to keep you independently mobile,” says Ferguson. Course participants learn how to objectively assess their own driving and assist family and friends who may need to change their routines, including information on alternative ways to get around.

As we age, it’s always good to remember that driving need not be an all-or-nothing activity. Especially in the winter, you may want to drive less at night or in bad weather. It’s fine to stick to the routes you know and stay off the interstate. But if you avoid I-5 because you feel intimidated, a driving refresher class may help you regain confidence in your abilities.

Stay Smart

Before the pandemic, the AARP Smart Driver course was offered in-person or online, but the online course is the only option through at least December 2020. It costs $27.95 (with a discount for AARP members) and completing the course will also get you a break on your car insurance. See for details.

Other organizations and businesses offer senior defensive driving classes and evaluations. Two companies with such services are Kirkland-based Defensive Driving School and Northwest Driver Rehab in Issaquah.

Julie Fanselow is dedicated to living large with a small footprint and writing to make sense of these times. She lives in Seattle and is a frequent contributor to 3rd Act. Read more from her at surelyjoy.

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