AARP has been involved in driver-improvement education since 1969, when AARP volunteers began teaching the Defensive Driving Course (DDC) of the National Safety Council.
Between 1969 and 1979, more than 400,000 people completed the course. By 1979, more than 4,500 volunteer instructors had been trained to teach the course.
The only concern was that the DDC program was designed for all drivers age 16 and older. AARP was convinced that older drivers should have a training program of their own, so in 1979, we created one: AARP Driver Safety (then called "55 ALIVE").
"55 ALIVE" continued to teach defensive driving techniques but added information on age-related cognitive and physical changes that affect drivers.
As opposed to younger drivers, whose typical violations include speeding, reckless driving and DWI offenses, older drivers' typical infractions include failure to yield the right-of-way, improper turning and incorrect lane changing. Generally, older drivers have problems in driving situations that require quick responses, full vision and interaction with other drivers. So the course taught participants how to adjust their driving in response to those changes.
Growth and changes
Between 1980 and the early 2000s, AARP Driver Safety continued to thrive, mainly because of increased acceptance by insurance companies. In addition, many states passed laws that mandated automobile insurance discounts to participants in the course. The first of these mandatory discount laws was passed in 1981. Currently, 36 states and the District of Columbia have passed such laws.
In 2006, the AARP Driver Safety Online Course was introduced, presenting the same information as the popular classroom course. The introduction of the online course helped make the program more accessible and appealing to the active and busy lifestyles of today's course participants.
Impact on driving behavior
Government entities and insurance companies conducted numerous evaluations during the 1980s and '90s. Most research showed a strong, statistically significant correlation between enrollment in the course and reduced traffic violations. In most cases, the relationship between the course and decreases in accidents was not statistically significant. However, self-assessments by participants indicated behavior change, with four out of five reporting that they adjusted their driving habits after completing the course.
AARP Driver Safety today
With millions of participants, AARP Driver Safety remains one of our most visible community service programs. It is a key element of our effort to support "livable communities." Those communities ensure, enhance, and sustain mobility and housing options that enable persons age 50 and older to remain in their homes. As the number of older drivers swells during the next few decades, AARP Driver Safety will be there to help individuals keep their driving competencies as long as possible.
Also of interest: Quiz: Are you a smart driver?