Drawn by the desire to stay on the road and lower auto insurance costs, a growing number of older Americans are signing up for driving school. But some of the fastest-growing classes aren’t behind the wheel. They’re behind a keyboard.
That’s right: Adults can now take driver’s ed without ever sitting in a car labeled “student driver” or making a single three-point turn. Instead, online classes — typically four to eight hours in total screen time — have become the fastest way for adults to brush up before a driving test or secure a discount on auto insurance. The AARP’s online driver safety course had more than 60,000 students nationwide in 2010, up 30% from a year earlier. By July of this year, another 40,000 had already enrolled. Participation in the American Automobile Association’s national online senior driving course has also increased an average of 20% per year over the last three years. “There’s been an increasing level of interest from seniors,” says Wade Mezey, president of Professional Driving Associates, which runs an online defensive driving course.
But when it comes to actually being a better driver, experts and driving instructors say online courses might not help. “Research shows that classroom programs don’t really impact positively on driving performance,” says Normand Teasdale, a professor at the University Laval in Quebec, who studies driving patterns among seniors. “You need to practice and get feedback over and over again to improve performance.”