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Shorter courses could improve driving safety among older people, bill supporters say

Older people may have longer attention spans than younger people, but slogging through an eight-hour driving safety course can be unrealistic for many people, regardless of age.

So says Rep. Robert Bierman (DFL-Apple Valley), who sponsors a bill proposing to cut in half the course older drivers must take to receive a 10% auto insurance discount.

He said a study by AARP, one of several groups that have developed these courses, showed it can be done without compromising safety. “Course length had no significant impact on the amount of knowledge drivers retained.”

The House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee laid over HF4587 Wednesday for possible inclusion in a committee bill.

A 1984 Minnesota law requires auto insurers to provide at least a 10% discount for drivers 65 and older completing an eight-hour accident prevention course. Over time, the statute was revised to include drivers 55 and over, with a mandated four-hour refresher course every three years to remain eligible for the insurance discount.

The bill would not change the length of the refresher course or how often it must be taken.

Of the 18 states that require a four-hour course, Bierman said nine require mandatory insurance discounts for four-hour courses.

Course participation numbers have declined and suffered in states with eight-hour courses, said Cheryl Salo, an AARP Smart Driver course instructor.

According to an AARP Minnesota statement, despite the 55-plus population in Minnesota growing from 1 million to 1.7 million in the last 10 years, class participation has declined by 27%.

“With time constraints on everyone’s schedules, it’s difficult to convince drivers to take the initial eight-hour course, even with the 10% auto insurance discount,” Salo said.

If reducing the length of the initial course will encourage more drivers to take an older driver safety course, all of us would be safer, Salo said.

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