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.
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, and taught participants how to adapt their driving to accommodate these changes.
Growth and changes
Between 1980 and the early 2000s, AARP Driver Safety continued to thrive, mainly because of increased acceptance by insurance companies. 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.
In 2004, AARP Driver Safety began to expand its offerings to include other transportation and mobility issues. One result was the addition of CarFit, an educational program developed by AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). CarFit offers drivers a free opportunity to check how well their personal vehicles fit their requirements for proper seating, sight lines and more. The program also provides information on community-specific resources that enhance drivers’ safety and overall mobility.
Additionally, We Need to Talk was added in 2005. AARP developed this free seminar based on information created jointly by The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab. During the seminar, family members, caregivers and friends learn how to have sensitive and successful conversations with loved ones about driver safety, especially when it is time to limit or stop driving.
In 2006, AARP Driver Safety introduced an online course, 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.
AARP Driver Safety has continued to evolve its course curriculum, with revisions in 1984, 1988, 1994, 2000, 2005 and 2014. The current AARP Smart Driver Course launched in 2014, and is based on a significant amount of driver safety and transportation research, conducted between 2010 and 2013.
Concurrent with the AARP Smart Driver Course, AARP Driver Safety launched the Driving Resource Center, which features research-based information and interactive tools including driving simulations, state-specific rules of the road and new vehicle technologies.
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.
Additionally, self-assessments by participants continue to indicate behavior change, with almost all participants (97 percent) reporting that they changed at least one key driving behavior as a result of completing the course.
The self-reported data is also supported by research. A recent driving simulator study by AARP and the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) found that the course is “effective at reducing driving errors.” In the EVMS study, those who took the AARP Driver Safety course committed fewer errors than those that did not take a course.
AARP Driver Safety today
Today, AARP Driver Safety meets the needs of older drivers through educational programs that include the AARP Smart Driver Course, CarFit, We Need to Talk and the Driving Resource Center. Educational programs are managed and administered by more than 4,000 AARP Driver Safety volunteers nationwide.
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 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.
Sign up to take the new AARP Smart Driver Course
Become involved as an AARP Driver Safety volunteer
Also of interest: Quiz: Are you a smart driver?