If it’s been decades since you learned to drive, you may worry that you’re out of practice or losing your touch. Taking a driving safety class can help you learn new skills and regain confidence behind the wheel.

By 2030, there will be 70 million people age 65 and older, and up to 90% will have a driver license, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). Changes that may come with age can affect your driving and up your risk of getting into a crash, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

But that’s not the only reason to take a driving class. It’s also helpful to get up to speed on recent changes in vehicle technology, traffic controls and driving techniques, says William Van Tassel, manager of driver training programs for AAA.

“The longer it’s been since you’ve gotten an update, the more reason to refresh your driving skills,” Van Tassel says.

Why Take a Driving Safety Class?

Experience can help you become a better driver as you gain confidence navigating different roads and driving conditions.

But over time, you may forget some rules of the road, experience physical changes from aging, or purchase a new vehicle with technology you’ve never used before.

“Most people have developed some bad driving habits over the years,” says Jennifer Fox, a certified driver rehabilitation specialist and founder of Drive Rehab Services.

For these reasons, you may want to take a driving safety class. A class can help you:

  • Brush up on newer state and local laws. One example: All 50 states now have “move over laws” requiring drivers who see flashing lights by the side of the road to change lanes or slow down. Yet one-third of drivers are unaware of these laws, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Learn new driving techniques to stay safer behind the wheel. Ever heard of a zipper merge? This newer technique for merging involves staying in your lane until the merge point, and then easing into the other lane one vehicle at a time, like the teeth of a zipper. “It goes a lot smoother and faster” than trying to merge too soon, Van Tassel says.
  • Make a plan to avoid distracted driving. Older drivers tend to get distracted by cell phones less frequently than younger drivers. Still, 60% of adults 65 and older report using their cell phone while driving. Older drivers tend to shift focus for shorter lengths of time, but even the briefest distractions are dangerous, Van Tassel says. He recommends identifying your most common distractions and finding ways to eliminate them, whether that means plugging your destination into the GPS before you leave or pulling over to eat a snack.
  • Adjust your driving for new vehicle technology. Adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance are all relatively new safety features, and they change the way we drive. “Driving safety courses are a perfect way to get up to speed on what those systems will and will not do [and] their limitations,” Van Tassel says. One example: automatic emergency braking does a poor job detecting pedestrians at night, he says: “It’s better to drive as if you don’t have this technology and let it back you up if needed.”

How Age Can Affect Driving

The body changes with age, and some of these changes can affect driving. You may need to keep these changes in mind and even adjust driving habits to stay safe.

“There are three main components with driving: the physical, the visual and the cognitive,” Fox says. Some physical changes, such as loss of bone and muscle density, can also make you more likely to get injured in a crash, Van Tassel says.

Other changes that can affect driving include:

  • Vision changes. By age 60, your eyes need three times the amount of light they needed at age 20 to see well. This can make night driving more difficult as you get older.
  • Slower reaction times. The average reaction time tends to increase with age, according to a study that assessed reaction times of drivers ages 20 to 80. You may need to adjust for this by allowing more reaction time when following another vehicle. The National Safety Council recommends three seconds of driving distance in good conditions, but you may want to add a few seconds as you age.
  • Loss of flexibility. A decline in flexibility and strength is a normal part of aging. The good news: Regular stretching and exercise can help. “Staying physically active and working on flexibility in general is important,” Fox says. “The neck is particularly important for looking over your shoulder and seeing your surroundings.”

You can also compensate for these changes by avoiding driving in rush hour, sticking to familiar roads, waiting for rain to stop or driving mainly during daylight hours, Van Tassel says. That doesn’t mean every driver needs to do these things, but it comes down to your comfort level.

“Older drivers are pretty good at some things — one is self-regulating their driving,” he says.

Choosing a Driving Safety Class

You can take an online or in-person driving safety class, and many are designed specifically for older drivers. Here are three options:

  • AARP Smart Driver: This self-paced online driving class from AARP covers everyday skills, defensive driving, traffic laws and vehicle maintenance to help you stay safer on the road.
  • AAA RoadWise Driver: This class, available online or in-person at some local AAA branches, helps older adults get up to date on all aspects of driving safety and skills.
  • Defensive Driving for Mature Drivers: This online driving course for adults 55 and older is offered by the National Safety Council.

Online classes for older drivers cover the same material as in-person classes, so you can choose whichever learning format you prefer, Van Tassel says.

A bonus: Your auto insurer may give you a discount for completing one of these classes. The Hartford offers discounts on auto insurance for driver training and education courses. To learn more, contact your insurance provider directly to find out what courses are approved and how to make sure you are getting all the discounts you can.

In addition to brushing up your driving skills with a class, routine eye exams and regular exercise also can help you stay safe on the road by improving your coordination, increasing your flexibility and shortening your reaction times.


Do you have tips, tricks or skills that have helped you stay safe behind the wheel? Leave a comment and share your driving advice.