‘Driving range’ helps drivers in controlled setting
By Bill Vossler
If you are 55-70 years old, you are one of the safest drivers on the road in Minnesota, according to Larry Nadeau. He should know, as he has worked in driver and traffic safety for 30 years, and as the Director of the Minnesota Highway Safety & Research Center at St. Cloud State University for the last 12 years.
“From looking at licensing data and driving trends, we find that there are more older drivers on the road, driving more miles than ever before. We also know that our senior drivers are generally good drivers, and are under-represented in state crash statistics,” he said.
But that changes after age 70, he added. “As drivers age, we notice an increase in the number of fatalities, and those drivers become over-represented in the number of fatalities. Even with fewer crashes, their statistics actually begin to mirror the fatalities in crashes of younger drivers from 16-25 years old.”
“The death rate is higher simply due to aging, underlying health issues, frailty, and more difficulty recovering from injuries. That information was eye-opening.”
Another eye-opening reality is that at least 90 percent of all crashes are simple human error—driver mistakes–and are totally preventable, Larry said. “Once drivers understand that, they realize they have control over situations. Speeding is often involved, as is distracted driving.”
“Other simple errors include drivers who are fatigued, tired, impaired, or who pulled out from a stop sign before looking for the all-clear. These are all examples of preventable driver mistakes. Simple awareness makes the difference.”
A Little History
In 1974, St. Cloud State University created a 160-acre driving range, the first of its kind in the Upper Midwest, “To provide a realistic training environment,” according to their website (stcloudstate.edu/continuingstudies/mhsrc/about/default.aspx) “in a controlled setting for thousands of participants. Our mission is to provide educational activities to prevent financial loss, human trauma, and to promote the safe and efficient operation of highway transportation.”
Police officers, firefighters and other professionals participate in behind the wheel skills training, and as the website continues, “Learn the latest techniques in collision avoidance, braking, speed control, and vehicle dynamics. Emergency responders learn techniques to navigate safely through real-life scenarios they might face on the road. Anybody who drives commercially, bus and truck drivers, can take advantage of the courses. We cover it all.” They also provide customized courses to professional drivers and emergency responders.
Most Are 55+
But the greatest numbers who participate out of the 40,000 people a year that take classes in small classroom settings for the Driver Discount Program, a Department of Public Safety approved accident prevention program, are in 55+ classes. Larry said a Minnesota statute allows drivers age 55 and over to take an approved accident prevention program, and upon completion, drop 10 percent off their car insurance. “So participants in our classes are really getting paid to take the training. It’s a good motivator,” Larry said.
Driver Discount Classes are held at 250 sites around Minnesota--though none on the SCSU campus. “We have a cadre of about 60 instructors, and our curriculum is unique to Minnesota drivers, with situations unique to Minnesota roadway engineering, and state crash facts that we highlight. In St. Cloud, the Whitney Senior Center is a big one for us, and many class offerings are hosted throughout the state at community centers, through community education programs, senior centers, and churches.” To check for a class offering near you, go to www.driverdiscountprogram.com.
“We’re very proud of our program,” Larry said. “For a number of years it has been the largest in the state compared to our competitors.” Classes can be taken in a classroom, or online, which Larry said is popular with people 55-65 years old.
“Online Self-Paced Training” Driver Discount classes cost $27.95 for the introductory eight-hour course, and $23.95 for four-hour courses. Virtual or classroom training are $28 for the eight-hour course, and $24 for the four-hour course.
He added that their commitment is to deliver value to everyone who comes and takes the classes. “They’ll take away good information, and be engaged, and enjoy the classes.”
Larry has a long history and background in transportation safety, starting as an emergency responder for 26 years, and then becoming part of the Minnesota Highway Research Center training emergency responders, police, firefighters, EMS (emergency medical service). “We give them advanced driver training concepts, because we have a unique understanding and perception of what happens on our roadways, and the very tragic incidents that occur.”
The SCSU continuing studies website states that the Driver Discount Program for 55 and older will take 10 percent off auto insurance premiums after completing the initial eight- hour course, and will continue each time the four-hour refresher class is repeated each three years thereafter. The website reads, “Participants learn safe driving skills, reviewing the latest in traffic safety, technology, and laws, and a better understanding of defensive driving.”
“The amount of training that we deliver is relatively consistent through the year,” said Larry, especially with the Driver Discount Program. We see a bit of a peak in the summer and the fall going into the winter in our Driver Discount Program.”
“Accidents” is a term seldom used, Larry said, and the word “crashes” is preferred. Of course, the logic behind this is that most crashes are totally preventable as opposed to an accident or an act of God, which is not preventable.
Larry said older drivers can protect themselves by planning travel wisely around peak travel times. “Also, by using effective visual scanning techniques as we look down the roadway. Then keep space between you and the vehicle you are following, and always wear your seat belt. To learn more, sign up for one of the classes, where participants will walk away with driver safety tips and statistics that will help them be better drivers.”
Interested people can call the Minnesota Highway Safety & Research Center for information, and location of classes, and to register, at 888-234-1294. This information is also on driverdiscountprogram.com.