As Claire Fleming drove on an interstate near Columbia, the car ahead began swerving on and off the road.
See also: Why take a driver safety class?
Mindful of a tip from an AARP driver safety class to keep scanning the road for potential danger, Fleming, 65, pulled her car onto the shoulder.
Then the Little Mountain resident and her husband, John Awtrey, 85, watched from a safe distance as the other car spun in a circle before coming to a stop.
Fleming credits the information and techniques she learned in the class with preventing what could have been a horrendous crash. She is one of nearly 28,000 state residents who have taken the AARP Driver Safety Program course in recent years.
AARP South Carolina successfully supported legislation this year to cut the class time from eight hours to six. A shortened class can be conducted in one day instead of two. The law, which also halves the time for renewal classes to four hours, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2012.
AARP South Carolina hopes the shorter class time will spur many more of the state's nearly 3.4 million drivers to enroll, especially the 1.4 million who are 50 or older.
Although AARP's classes are geared to drivers age 50-plus, they are open to drivers of any age.
One thing won't change: The requirement that auto insurance companies offer a discount to drivers who complete the course and a refresher class every three years.
The amount of the discount varies by company, so consumers should "shop around to find the best deal that they can," said Ann Roberson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Insurance.
The new law specifies that insurance discounts must be offered to anyone 25 or older who completes the classroom course; previously only people 55 and older were eligible for the insurance rate reductions.
Opening the insurance premium discount to people 25 to 54 who take safe-driving classes will make the roads safer for everyone, said state Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, the bill's sponsor.
He's particularly hopeful that people who take the class will become more aware of the dangers caused when drivers talk or text on cellphones.
As in the eight-hour classes, participants in the six-hour AARP classes will learn to adjust their driving to accommodate common age-related changes in vision, hearing and reaction time. They will continue to get tips on using new vehicle technology and eliminating distractions.
An additional benefit of the one-day class is that more people might volunteer to teach, said Teresa Arnold, AARP South Carolina associate state director for advocacy.
D.H. "Jeff" Jefcoat, 82, of Little Mountain, has taught the AARP Driver Safety Program class for seven years. He said modern teaching aids and shorter breaks during class make it possible to give the same information in less time.
Jefcoat is one of 105 Driver Safety Program instructors in South Carolina. Frank Carroll, senior project manager for the national program, said that when state AARP offices increase the pool of teachers and the number of class locations, the number of students also increases.
The classroom course costs $12 for AARP members and $14 for nonmembers. Online classes — in English or Spanish — are $15.95 for AARP members and $19.95 for nonmembers. Insurance premium discounts are not available to people who take the online class.
Katrina Goggins is a writer living in Columbia, S.C.
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