ST. PAUL, Minn. – With Minnesota’s aging population, it’s a question facing a growing number of drivers and families across the state: When is it time to finally hang up the car keys? There is no hard and fast rule on when a person should park it for good, but as eyesight, hearing, memory and reflexes diminish, Julie Lee, vice president and national director of AARP Driver Safety, suggests a family conversation and a test drive.
“One of the things we do recommend for people is to actually get in the car with their loved one and sort of get that bird’s-eye view of what’s happening, and that helps have that conversation,” says Lee.
Last year in Minnesota, more than 10,000 traffic crashes involved at least one driver age 65 or older, accounting for about 14 percent of all car accidents statewide.
Giving up the car keys is also giving up mobility and independence, so AARP offers a Safe Driver program online, and at hundreds of locations across the state, so older motorists can stay behind the wheel and feel more confident on the roads.
AARP Safe Driving instructor George Kinney says much of the focus is on awareness and defensive driving, especially around intersections, where most accidents involving seniors happen.
“So being very, very aware of everything as you’re coming into that intersection, looking for the other drivers, looking for the pedestrians, the bicycles, all of that. It’s really quite important,” Kinney says.
Nearly 45,000 Minnesotans took the Safe Driver course last year alone, and Kinney says doing so also earned them discounts on their car insurance, as required by state law.
“That’s one of the things that gets people in the door, but everyone who comes in leaves our course with several good ideas,” he says. “By using these tools, they’re going to be much safer behind the wheel for a much longer period of time.”
According to an AARP survey, the average insurance discount is about $100, meaning the savings from the Safe Driver course in Minnesota last year alone was around $4.5 million.