1.1 Formal Courses for Older Drivers
Overall Effectiveness Concerns: The effectiveness of formal courses for older drivers has been examined in several research studies. While these studies have found some positive outcomes, there is no evidence that this countermeasure reduces crashes relative to comparison groups.
Formal courses specifically for older drivers are offered by organizations including AAA, AARP, and the National Safety Council, either independently or under accreditation by States (Potts et al., 2004, Strategy D2; Stutts, 2005, Table 12). AARP’s Driver Safety Program is the largest of these courses. AARP developed the initial version in 1979 (“55 Alive”) and the current version, named “AARP Smart Driver Course,” is offered in the classroom and online (Moreau, 2015). The courses typically involve 6 to 10 hours of classroom training in basic safe driving practices and in how to adjust driving to accommodate age-related cognitive and physical changes. As of 2010 there were 34 States and the District of Columbia that mandated automobile insurance discounts for graduates of accredited courses (AARP, 2010). Insurance companies may choose to offer discounts to graduates of accredited courses even in States that do not mandate discounts. A relatively new AARP course, the Smart DriverTEK course, educates drivers on the safety features and technologies in their vehicles (AARP, 2018). The course is delivered as short-duration workshops and includes material on technologies including smart headlights, reverse camera systems, collision and proximity warning (e.g., blind spot, lane departure, and forward collision), and post-crash emergency (also known as automatic crash or advanced automatic crash) notification systems. Insurance discounts are not offered for participants taking this course (AARP, 2018). As an option to taking the in-person workshop, people can register online for a self-paced version of the course, see https://campaigns.aarp.org/findaworkshop/?cmp=RDRCT-ADS-SMDTEK-0-30917.
Courses combining classroom and on-the-road instruction have been offered in a few locations (Potts et al., 2004, Strategy D2).
Use: Courses are taught in all States but reach only a small fraction of older drivers.
Effectiveness: Graduates of both the AARP classroom and online courses report they changed some driving behaviors as a result of the course (Skufca, 2011). However, none of the courses has been shown to reduce crashes (Potts et al., 2004, Strategy D2). NHTSA’s Older Road User Research Plan includes the high-priority research problem statement, “Do assessment and retraining programs improve driving?” (Raymond et al., 2001, Table 1). The most thorough evaluation studied approximately 200,000 course graduates and a 360,000-driver comparison group in California from 1988 to 1992. It found that course graduates had fewer citations but no fewer crashes than non-graduates (Janke, 1994; Potts et al., 2004, Strategy D2).
A study conducted in 2004 evaluated the effects of a well-designed three-hour educational course promoting safe driving strategies for older drivers with some visual defects. Course graduates reported that they regulated their driving more following the course than a control group that did not attend the course. There was no significant difference in crash rates between course graduates and the control group (Owsley et al., 2004).
Another 2004 study involving a systematic review of studies evaluating the effectiveness of driver retraining programs (Kua et al., 2007) reached a similar conclusion as did Owsley et al. (2004). These researchers reported that while there is moderate evidence that educational interventions improve driving awareness and behavior, these interventions do not reduce crashes in older drivers. Regardless, the authors felt the evidence regarding the effectiveness of retraining aimed at older drivers is encouraging enough to warrant further research.
Several subsequent evaluations of courses for older drivers have produced mixed results related to the crash rates of drivers attending these courses. Marottoli (2007) concluded that a training program combining classroom education with on-road training improved the performance of older drivers on written and on-road tests, and may allow these drivers to retain their licenses longer, but did not attempt to assess the program’s impact on subsequent crash rates. Bedard et al. (2008) concluded that an in-class education program coupled with on-road education led to improvements in the participants’ knowledge of safe driving practices and improvements on some aspects of safe driving performance, but further research is required to determine if these changes will affect crash rates.
Nasvadi and Vavrik (2007) conducted research in British Columbia evaluating the crash risk of drivers after attending a safe driving class and found that these classes were associated with an increased number of crashes for certain men 75 and older. The findings reported that older men who had at least one crash before and after the study were less likely to have used “compensation and selection strategies” (avoiding difficult driving situations, driving less by ceasing to drive at all or consolidating their trips so that they spend less time on the road, etc.). The study also found that the oldest male drivers were less likely to be motivated by reasons other than spousal pressure and that they were less likely to be able to recall specific things they had learned during the course. These drivers reported higher emotional attachment to driving and higher confidence about driving. Apart from these negative outcomes, attendance in these classes had no effect on crashes for male attendees younger than 75 or female attendees of all ages. Though acknowledging several limitations of this study, the authors stress, “Recognizing and understanding characteristics and behaviors of older drivers who attend remedial driver education is essential to the design and delivery of successful driver safety programs.”
Korner-Bitensky et al. (2009) conducted a review of articles published from 2004 to 2008 on the effectiveness of older driver retraining programs for improving driving skills and reducing crash rates. Four studies met the inclusion criteria for the review and provided strong evidence that education combined with on-road training improves driving performance. They also found moderate evidence that education alone is not effective in reducing crashes but combined with physical retraining, does improve driving performance. The value of physical training in addition to education is reinforced by research results by Romoser and Fisher (2009). They found that active training, such as practice with feedback, is a more effective strategy for increasing older drivers’ likelihood of side-to-side scanning, looking for threats, during turns than is passive training (classroom lecture or video only) or no training.
Costs: Costs for making courses for older drivers available can be minimal since they have been developed and are offered by organizations such as AAA, AARP, and NSC. Courses typically charge a small fee, which may be offset by insurance discounts available to graduates.
Time to implement: Courses are offered regularly by AAA, AARP, NSC, and other organizations.