It's easy for motorists to think of driver's education courses as something from their distant past -- the class many took as teenagers to get that coveted driver's license. In most cases, many experienced drivers wouldn't consider taking those courses again. After all, many likely believe they know all they need to about driving - but that may not always be true.
A driver-safety class allows you to practice how you will respond in an emergency. If gives you the opportunity in a controlled environment to make split-second decisions - steering and stopping.
The greatest safety feature in your car isn't one of the state-of-the-art brake, camera or steering systems. It's you, notes Edmunds.com in an article on safety features. More than 90% of automobile crashes are caused by human performance and behavior, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If more drivers took advantage of the numerous education programs available for drivers of all ages and skill levels, this statistic may be lower.
Senior driving classes are on the rise. The American Occupational Therapy Association Driver Resource Center has driver rehabilitation specialists who provide in-depth evaluations of the skills of drivers who have had strokes, Parkinson's disease, diabetes or other potentially disabling conditions. The specialist, often an occupational therapist, offers the driver suggestions and may even recommend specialized equipment to keep the driver safe. Additionally, AARP has a host of programs for older drivers.
But what about those drivers who fall between high school and retirement ages? Are courses really helpful?
Yes, Paul Murrell, a veteran facilitator of many training courses, wrote for Practical Motoring.
"It is quite sobering to see how many of these drivers (who one can safely assume are more involved and enthusiastic than average) make basic errors," he says. "It starts with the way many of them sit behind the wheel. … Sitting too far back means you can't apply full pressure to the brake pedal or brace yourself against the footrest. Almost all participants hold the wheel at '10 and 2' [o'clock] and have to be reminded (many times over) to hold it at the 9 and 3 position."
There's no reason for drivers to feel less worthy for taking such a course. Even the most experienced drivers can benefit from them. They are good practice for anyone, from adults who might have become lax after years of driving to those brand-new to driving. It can be very beneficial to enroll your teen or new driver in additional driving safety courses. You may also want to consider adding Accident Forgiveness to your teen's auto insurance policy, which can help avoid penalties in the unfortunate event of a first accident.
What's more, an experienced driver is not necessarily a better or safer one. Skills can erode over time as drivers become lax about safety habits they once practiced with diligence. The advanced driving course can remind drivers of the following road hazards.
1. Don’t underestimate fatigue
Similar to the effects of alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time while decreasing awareness and impairing judgment, factors that increase your risk of an accident.
To combat fatigue, get plenty of rest - seven to eight hours of sleep per night - especially before a long trip. Also, be aware that peak periods of drowsy driving are between midnight and 6 a.m., and in late afternoon. If you are tired, don't hesitate to pull over to the side of the road.
2. Be wary of work zones
Look for orange traffic signs and cones that announce a work zone ahead and prepare to slow down - speed limits are typically reduced by at least 10 mph in these zones. The road may narrow, lanes might shift, or you could be required to merge, while traffic in work zones may abruptly stop. Watch for workers on the roadside, as well as trucks and other work vehicles entering the road.
3. Yield the right of way at an intersection
Failing to yield the right of way at intersections and freeway merge ramps is a leading cause of accidents, and another area where experienced drivers – especially older drivers – can lapse.
Even road veterans should drive defensively, particularly before entering an intersection, checking that the left, front and right zones are clear and other cars have come to a stop. If possible, opt for roadways with fewer intersections and congestion to avoid those potential accident scenarios.
4. Double-check your blind spots
Double-check blind spots before changing lanes, and always signal your intentions. Look behind you when slowing down to make sure other cars are doing the same, and keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead for last-minute maneuvers, allowing you to avoid a potential accident.
5. Slow down and pay attention
It's easy for drivers to go five or 10 miles above the speed limit, but it's important to remember that limits are set for a reason. As your speed rises, the risk of injuries and fatalities increases exponentially. Additionally, turning off cell phones and lowering the volume of the radio limits distractions and lets a driver focus on what's most important: the road ahead.
Most driver safety classes allow drivers to get behind the wheel and drive through situations that might seem nerve-wracking, including skids in tight corners on slick surfaces. The instructors stay with the drivers as they repeatedly perform the maneuvers until they can do so without emotional responses, according to Edmunds.
There are also a host of classroom courses that go through the basics of driving and help shore up skills. Learn how taking such a course may even qualify you for a defensive driving discount which is one of many car insurance discounts Nationwide offers its members.