Last February, Rich Dohrmann, 75, had a split second to decide what to do when an oncoming car crossed the center line. He evaded a potentially fatal crash by using a strategy he has been teaching for years as a volunteer instructor in the AARP Driver Safety Program.
"We teach our participants to avoid a head-on crash by braking hard and steering to the right, and that's exactly what I did."
See also: Why take a driver safety course?
Dohrmann, of Eden Prairie, who coordinates the driver safety classes for the Twin Cities and southeastern Minnesota, said he knew he couldn't prevent a collision. But his avoidance maneuver resulted in the two vehicles only sideswiping — instead of plowing into — each other at speeds approaching 50 miles per hour.
Heavily damaged, both cars wound up in the ditch, along with another car and a pickup truck that had been traveling behind each of them. No one was injured.
41,000 take class in 2010
AARP Minnesota operates one of the national organization's largest driver safety programs. That's mainly because a 24-year-old state law requires insurance companies to shave 10 percent off annual insurance premiums for anyone 55 or older who participates in a certified safety program. In 2010, AARP Minnesota conducted more than 2,000 classes for 41,000 participants.
The eight-hour class is conducted over two days in community centers or other venues. It is open to drivers of any age but is geared toward people 50 and older.
After the initial class, drivers can retain the insurance discount by attending AARP's four-hour refresher course every three years.
"The program probably touches the most people directly of any volunteer program we have," said Michele Kimball, AARP Minnesota state director.