Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Continuing education matters — especially with professions or activities that require licenses. Those activities include driving. And even though additional classes can keep the roads safer and cut insurance costs, taking them is voluntary.
Thousands of older Minnesota drivers are failing to update their driving knowledge, the Star Tribune reported this week. According to state officials, in 2020 Minnesota had more than 1.5 million drivers aged 55 and older — about 20% of all licensed drivers in the state. But only a quarter of them had completed a class that can cut their insurance costs by 10% annually.
That's a significant missed opportunity. To prevent crashes and keep themselves and other motorists safe while saving money, more Minnesota drivers should enroll in the 55-plus courses.
Too many older drivers believe they learned all they needed to know when they passed the driver's license tests decades ago or that the experience of years on the road is enough. But in reality, road rules and conditions change over time, and most motorists can become safer drivers with continuing education.
Most people believe that they're good drivers and that any problems are caused by other motorists, Lisa Kons, traffic safety program manager for the Minnesota Safety Council, told an editorial writer. Even if that were true, she said, the courses offer great tips on defensive driving.
"The driving world around us changes," Kons said. "The roads are different with [for example] roundabouts and J-turns — things that didn't exist years ago. New laws are passed, and these classes are great refreshers." She added that some older drivers could benefit from learning about the child seats they need for the grandkids or how to identify colored road stripes.
And older drivers may be hesitant to admit that they, too, have changed. As people age, reaction times, depth perception, eyesight issues and medications can affect driving. Safety courses provide strategies to deal with the physical changes of getting older.
In 2011, drivers 60 and older were involved in 13% of all crashes in Minnesota. By 2019, the percentage had grown to 16%. And injuries among those in that age group jumped from 8% to 20% of the total, and deaths from 21% to 30%, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
AARP research shows that 97% of participants modify at least one driving habit after completing the course. Nearly 80% said what they learned prevented them from being in a crash, according to Alan Ainsworth, deputy state coordinator for Minnesota AARP Driver Safety and a volunteer instructor. He told the Star Tribune that the current observance of National Older Driver Safety Awareness Week was an opportunity to raise awareness about the effectiveness and accessibility of the courses.
Classes for first-time participants run eight hours, often split over two days, Ainsworth said. The refresher courses that are required every three years to keep the insurance discount run only four hours. The classes can be taken online or in person and are offered through AARP, the Minnesota Safety Council and AAA at multiple locations statewide. It's easy to find a time, place and course to fit any schedule.
The annual 10% savings on car insurance for those who complete the instruction is state-mandated. If you're 55 or older, take the class. You'll save money — and possibly lives.