Parents of driver’s ed students quickly learn that, apart from mounting anxiety of their kids being licensed to drive, the learning experience is far different today. Driving simulators are the norm, and rickety film projectors no longer show film strip shockers like Mechanized Death or Wheels of Tragedy.
They might also be surprised to learn their own parents are back in the classroom.
Not that the two generations are studying the rules of the road side by side. For the elders, it’s often a virtual classroom, led online by organizations like AAA and AARP. The former claims enrollment gains of about 20% each of the last few years. The latter’s attendance topped 60,000 in 2010 and is on pace for another strong year, citing 40,000 by July. Whereas teens go through the paces to earn driving privileges, their grandparents are doing it to retain them--or at least pay less to do so.
Nearly 30 states already mandate seniors take extra steps to remain licensed. Usually, it means renewing and road testing more often, and online courses are one way to cram for the exam. Insurance carriers may extend discounts to graduates as well, further justifying the courses’ nominal cost (about $20, give or take). And let’s not forget the intrinsic value of personal responsibility, sharpening skills that dull naturally with age.
Critics have no qualms with refresher lessons. Where they take exception is the notion--and in some cases, the subtle promotion--of online courses negating the need for instructional wheel time; what comes as common sense and is easily answered on a laptop at home doesn’t necessarily translate to greater safety on the road. Studies by Quebec’s University Laval suggest online driving courses may have more perceived benefits than real ones, and that seniors should still practice actual driving with professional instruction for the greatest benefit.
Considering AAA’s estimate that one of every five drivers in 2030 will be at least 65, proponents and critics agree online courses do hold value for seniors. What should complement that training remains disputed. For now anyway, the gory old driver’s ed films can probably stay in the archives.