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One for the Road: Into the sunset

By Shadow

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Sometime this past year I received a postcard from my auto insurance company stating that my driving safety course discount certificate on my policy was set to expire soon. Had it already been three years? Yup—I’d taken an Experienced Rider Course taught by Rider Education of New Jersey in the fall of 2009. The course was well worth the day I spent there, plus I received a not-insignificant discount on both my auto and motorcycle insurance policies.

I meant to sign up for another course but my schedule got pretty busy and the reminder card disappeared in the black hole of wayward papers on my desk, and I just never got around to it. That is, until I received the notice for my latest auto insurance renewal and realized that my premium amount had jumped considerably. So I looked up the schedule for RENJ and realized that the classes were done for the season. I was too late.

My only other option was to take a driving course. So I looked up the AAA offerings and, in the process, discovered that in New Jersey, a minimum of six hours is required to earn an insurance discount. When you’re on a motorcycle, those six hours are nothing but exhilaration, challenge and just plain fun. But taking an indoor auto-oriented theory-only course sounded dreadful. And to add insult to injury, it would cost me $60.

While fuming about the injustice of it all, I received an e-mail from AARP touting their driving courses. (No snickering, you young whippersnappers. I’ve been an AARP member for over 10 years. They offer some pretty good discounts.) Of course their courses are geared toward seniors, and since I’ve begun my seventh decade on this earth (for those of you who are math impaired, it means I’ve turned 60, not 70), I figured, why not?

One option was to sign up for a class at the Golden Age Senior Club about 15 miles from where I live, but the idea of being cooped up in a classroom with old people… er, I mean, other folks my age… made me cringe. And I’d have to bring my own lunch. The other choice was to sign up for their online course, offered for a special sale price of $12.76. You know how we seniors love discounts. Plus, I could take the course at the date and time of my choosing, in my own home. How bad could it be?

I signed up immediately and the intro informed me that by taking this AARP Driver Safety Online Course, I’d learn about current rules of the road, defensive driving techniques and driving safely in today’s challenging environment, as well as new-fangled technologies such as air bags, antilock brakes and GPS systems. And then I was ready for Module 1.

It was excruciating. Each module was timed so you couldn’t finish more quickly, apparently because of the six-hour requirement. And the background music switched back and forth between something like the score of a bad porno film and a piece that sounded like the instrumental part of “Darling Nikki”—the Foo Fighters version, not the original by Prince.

It took me four days to finish. I could only take so much before I started getting drowsy and had to stop for the night. We seniors go to sleep early, you know. Plus it was incredibly depressing. The course emphasized that older drivers—such as myself—start experiencing lack of mobility, bad vision, bad hearing and slower reactions. One of the many statistics quoted was that 35 percent of all traffic violations of drivers 55 and over are failure to yield the right of way. And I saw an NHTSA study claiming that in 38 percent of crashes, the other vehicle was turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing or overtaking the vehicle. Yet only several minutes of this six-hour course were devoted to motorcycle and bicycle awareness.

The worst part about the course was that it discouraged everything I think of as being fun. Sure, I understand the potential dangers of driving at night, but the exhortations to stick to familiar roads and only drive to familiar, specific destinations? That sucks the joy right out of riding. The course also urged me to avoid curves and windy roads because they’re hazardous, and to limit the distances and the number of trips I take, as well as to eliminate highway driving. It felt like they wanted me to sell my motorcycles and start driving a golf cart. And then was the module on how to recognize when to hang up my driving hat. Somebody, put me out of my misery.

Finally, I took the exam, passed the course and received my certificate. But it won’t end there. I’ve decided to write to AARP and insist that they spice up their driving course, maybe changing their emphasis from avoiding things that we riders consider fun and instead focusing on how to make these things safer—you know, just like we’re taught in advanced rider courses. It’s been proven that to stay healthy and live longer, we need to stay active and continue doing the things we enjoy. I can’t think of anything that ages a person faster than giving up their favorite hobbies, just because they’ve passed the mid-century mark or they think that at their age, such behavior isn’t becoming. Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you’re dead.

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