Drivers ages 55 and older who have never taken a class to keep safe on the roads and get a break on their car insurance may now have an incentive to sign up — it won't take as much time.

A law going into effect July 1 shortens classes for first-time participants from eight hours to four, matching the same length of refresher courses that drivers seeking to keep their state-mandated 10% discount on their auto insurance premiums must take every three years.

"It's the biggest change in driver education in 20 years," said Joseph Biernat, an instructor with the Minnesota Highway Safety and Research Center at St. Cloud State University, which offers the classes referenced in state statutes as accident prevention courses. "This is gigantic. Our state spends millions of dollars on infrastructure but very little on the drivers. The elimination of the eight-hour program is an investment in public safety that will pay dividends."

Courses offered by AAA, AARP, the Minnesota Safety Council and the Minnesota Highway Safety and Research Center cover myriad topics ranging from defensive driving to current rules of the road to how bad weather and using prescription medications can make driving more risky. Courses also cover navigating newer and sometimes confusing road layouts such as roundabouts and J-Turns, and the ever advancing technology of today's vehicles.

Minnesota has about 1.5 million drivers age 55 and older — accounting for close to 20% of all licensed drivers in the state — yet only a quarter of them have taken a class.

"We believe that having to take an initial eight-hour class has been one of the deterrents, so we are hopeful that we can turn the numbers around," said Minnesota AARP deputy state coordinator and volunteer instructor Alan Ainsworth.

With car insurance rates soaring — up 26% this year over last, according to — Biernat said more seniors are starting to inquire about the highway center's in-person and online 55+ Driver Discount Program.

"People are trying to offset auto insurance increases, but drivers are also legitimately concerned about staying safe on the road," he said. "They seek instruction on dealing with aggressive drivers, tips on preventing car hacking and auto theft."

Although geared for older drivers, Biernat would like to see classes opened up for all ages.

"The 16-year-old passes the license exam and then has to wait 39 years before eligibility in the over-55 program," he said. "That is nonsense. Classes are a prudent way for the state to disseminate information on new laws, marking and signs."

Bike and bus lane rally Wednesday

Hennepin County plans to rebuild Lyndale Avenue from Franklin Avenue to Lake Street in 2026. On Wednesday, a group called Livable Lyndale will hold a bike ride and rally to continue efforts to have dedicated bus and bike lanes included in the project.

Music and speakers will be part of the event from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Painter Park Tennis Courts, 620 W. 34th St.

"This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redesign this section of Lyndale in a way that reflects the community's priorities, not the past," the group's announcement reads.