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B.J. Riley, AARP Driver Safety class

B.J. Riley, 88, of Lansdale, took an AARP Driver Safety class because she felt it was time for a refresher course. The class covers the newest rules of the road and how new car features function. — Matt Roth

As a 19-year-old nursing student with a sky blue Chevrolet sitting in her Lansdale driveway, B.J. Riley wasn't thinking about automobile safety.

"All I knew was that it had four wheels, and, boy, when I got in it, I could go," she said.

Nearly seven decades later, safety — not speed — resonates with Riley, so she recently signed up for a course with AARP Driver Safety.

"I thought I needed a refresher. I'm 88 years old," she said.

The course, taught by volunteers, is aimed at the 3 million Pennsylvania drivers who are 55 or older, including nearly 28,000 licensed drivers 91 or older.

Many class participants recall when roads had just two lanes, cars couldn't talk and drivers hardly ever multitasked.

A Stroudsburg man told his classmates that he had to crank his first car to start it, but that morning he just pointed his remote-start key at the window while sipping his morning coffee.

The course teaches the newest rules of the road, how new car features function and how to compensate for age-related changes in vision, hearing and reaction time.

Know what to watch for
Instructors also show how to spot a collision in the making and steer clear of it. And there's a segment on recognizing when to hang up your keys for good. (One sign: Are there scrapes and bumps on the car that you can't explain?)

Riley, who recently moved back to Lansdale after 25 years in Florida, said she picked up several useful tips at the class.

One may save her life when she drives south to visit her friends: "I learned that you shouldn't use cruise control when it's raining or the roads are wet because you don't have control of your car. The car's going on its own."

The classroom course costs $12 for AARP members and $14 for non-members. An online Driver Safety course is $15.95 for AARP members, $19.95 for nonmembers.

Roland Vonderheide, 79, of Kunkletown, state coordinator for AARP Driver Safety, said an insurance discount is often the initial draw for class attendees.

Pennsylvania requires insurance companies to offer a 5 percent discount on auto insurance to any driver 55 or older who completes the classroom or online course. For the average policyholder, that's a savings of about $45 a year.

Next page: How to find out if your car actually fits you. »

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This program is supported by a generous grant from Toyota to AARP Foundation.

*Upon completion, you may be eligible to receive an auto insurance discount. Other restrictions apply.

Consult your agent for details.