Penny Corum learned to drive from her father, John Henderson, when she was a teenager. She learned the rules of the road and the importance of vehicle maintenance: Take good care of your car, and it will take good care of you.
"It's something he always stressed with me," Corum said.
Four decades later, the 61-year-old retired West Orange resident is a volunteer instructor with AARP Driver Safety, and she passes her father's lessons on to those taking the class to help improve their own driving skills.
Henderson's decision years ago to take the course led Corum to also enroll and eventually become an instructor. "He started to realize he was becoming distracted as a driver," Corum said of her dad, now 84 and living in Absecon in South Jersey.
The realization that a person's driving skills aren't what they were 50 or even 30 years ago leads many older people to attend the six-hour class, said Lavelle Jones, 59, the program's deputy state coordinator. About 10,000 drivers enroll in 500 to 600 sessions offered statewide each year, she said.
Geared to older drivers
Course completion also provides an economic benefit. New Jersey requires insurers to give qualified drivers who complete an approved defensive driving course, such as AARP Driver Safety, an auto insurance premium discount. Drivers also can get two points taken off their driver's license.
AARP Driver Safety classes are open to any licensed driver, but the material is geared to the state's nearly 3 million residents who are 50 or older.
The class shows how physical changes associated with aging affect driving abilities. It also offers strategies for navigating urban and country roads, as well as keeping a safe following distance — at least three seconds behind.
"Many of the participants who come to our course haven't had a driver refresher course since they got their license, which could be 40 or 45 years ago," said Jones, who's been with the program almost seven years. "It's designed for folks who've been driving for some time."