Brush up on your driving, learn about new car technology

Staying safe behind the wheel

Adobe Stock photo
Adobe Stock photo

If you’re middle aged or older, chances are you’ve been driving for decades. And chances are you’re comfortable behind the wheel, even in the new vehicles that coddle you and talk to you.

But have you ever thought about taking a refresher course, specifically designed for older drivers?

Larry Neppl, 75, and his wife, Ruth, of Marion, took the AARP Smart Driver class so they would get a discount on their auto insurance. Neppl found the information helpful and ended up training to teach the free classes.

AARP offers the in-person and online courses to help people ages 50 and older make sure they’re up to speed on their driving knowledge. Think roundabouts. Technology. Defensive driving.

Often, Neppl said, the people who take the Smart Driver classes say they are concerned about changes in their eyesight, hearing and reaction time, or changes in traffic patterns and traffic laws.

And then there are the new vehicles with their wonderful new technology. The technology definitely makes you safer on the road, but it can be confusing.

AARP’s Smart Driver Tek workshop, which Neppl also teaches, explains that new technology.

Specifically, four technology upgrades in new vehicles help reduce crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

• Rearview cameras that allow you to see behind your vehicle when backing up.

• Automatic emergency braking systems.

• Collision warning systems.

• Blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems that help you avoid crashes when changing lanes.


Neppl sees back-up cameras as a major safety innovation, on par with safety belts and harnesses and antilock braking systems.

“When I ask (class participants) how many currently have back-up cameras and how they like them, everyone responds that they really like them, especially for getting out of parking spaces and getting into parallel parking spaces,” Neppl said.

He advises drivers, though, to not rely solely on backup cameras. Use the vehicle’s mirrors and do head checks over your shoulder.

“All of these systems can fail, and drivers need to remember they are still in control of the vehicle and need to be ready to act,” he said.

Another relatively new safety technology is adaptive cruise control. It enables drivers to preset the car’s speed, just like the cruise control of the past. But it also automatically adjusts the speed of your car, using road-scanning radar tucked behind the car’s grille, to keep your vehicle a safe distance from the one in front of you.

Another thing you might want to brush up on are defensive-driving techniques. Here are some that Neppl offers in the Smart Driver class:

• Roundabouts: Slow down to the posted speed as you approach a roundabout. If it has multiple lanes, choose the lane you need to get into depending on your exit. Always yield to those vehicles already in the roundabout. And don’t stop if there is no vehicle coming your way in the roundabout.

• Bicycle riders: They are supposed to observe the same traffic rules as vehicles, but drivers should always drive as if the bicyclists will not see them.


• Expect the unexpected: It can be a jungle out there on the highways, with more vehicles driving at faster speeds. Remember: Drivers ahead of you may not use a turn signal even though they’re going to turn. They may not stop, even if there’s a red light or stop sign. Assume the other driver may do something unexpected. Be thinking, “What will I do when they do that?”

Most AARP in-person courses for the spring have been postponed because of the coronavirus restrictions. The next AARP Smart Driver Tek workshop is tentatively scheduled for June 30. In the meantime, Smart Driver classes are available online. Online class: “Today and the Future: The Benefits of Vehicle Safety

Technology,” a panel discussion on new technologies. Free.

Online class: AARP Smart Driver online course. Cost: $19.95. Sign up at <URL destination=" 637670082.1585774763">


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