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Safe driving program offers senior discount

Attendees participate in a Seniors for Safe Driving class at Concordia Lutheran Ministries in Cabot. Butler Eagle File Photo

A program for seniors in Butler County is helping them become safer drivers by offering instruction and adaptations for conditions that otherwise may hinder their ability.

Seniors for Safe Driving is a PennDOT-approved company based in Butler that offers driving courses for senior citizens who already have a license.

“We don’t do anything behind the wheel,” said office manager Desiree Simpson. “We don’t take anyone behind and evaluate their driving. This is for folks who already have their license, already have their insurance and are looking to save on their insurance.”

The company is based in Butler, but offers courses in more than 150 areas across the state of Pennsylvania and has been in business since 1994.

They are one of 10 companies that offer the state Department of Transportation-approved mature driving courses that reward those who complete it with a certificate.

Receiving the certificate qualifies the recipient for a 5% discount on their automobile insurance. That discount is binding under Pennsylvania law, meaning regardless of the insurance provider, the driver is eligible for the discount.

There are two courses available, a basic course and a refresher course. The refresher course is only available to seniors looking to renew their certificate after a period of three years, and is a slightly shorter version of the basic course.

The Pennsylvania law that requires insurers to offer the discount for the course’s completion does not require insurers to apply the discount after a period of three years if the certificate is not renewed.

Whether or not the insurance provider will continue to apply the discount if a certificate isn’t renewed will depend on the provider.

The course teaches senior drivers how aging affects driving ability, and can also teach them how a specific condition they may suffer from or a medication they are taking affects their driving. It also covers more general driving skills like defensive driving and dealing with aggressive drivers.

There’s also an added safety benefit: The course will inform seniors about the yellow dot program offered by the state, which puts a sticker on the cars of people with medication needs. If an accident occurs, a first responder is able to see the sticker and know to grab a victim’s medication from the vehicle.

There are no written or practical driving tests in the course, and while instructors vary from company to company, the course itself covers the same principles regardless of where it is taken.

Across the country, the number of senior drivers — classified as 65 or older — on the road has increased significantly on a five-year basis, according to information from the Federal Highway Administration. It has nearly doubled in the 20-year span of 2000 to 2020. According to PennDOT, there are nearly 1,000,000 more mature drivers on the road in Pennsylvania than there were just 10 years ago.

At the same time, fatality rates among older drivers in the state has risen, having reached a record high of 330 in 2018 and was also over 300 a year in 2021, the last year reported by PennDOT. Senior drivers make up 25% of fatal accidents.

That number is important, because while seniors do also make up 25% of all drivers in Pennsylvania, they actually are less likely to get into an accident than drivers in other age groups. However, an accident involving a senior is more likely to be fatal, data shows.

In terms of percentage of drivers in an age group that get in an accident, the percentage of mature drivers involved in accidents (0.87%) is significantly lower than the same percentage of drivers under 65 (2.9%), and the data suggests that people are less likely to get into an accidents as they enter a new age group.

The difference? While most younger drivers are more likely to get into a common fender bender, senior drivers are more likely to get into multiple-car accidents.

Approximately 79% of crashes involving a person 65 years or older was a multiple-vehicle crash, and more than 42% of these crashes happened when a person hit another driver at an angle.

PennDOT’s report noted that most senior crashes are due to deteriorating physical abilities such as eyesight, hearing and head movement. Learning to handle these declines while driving is one of the main objectives of the course.

“If anybody wants to go to our website or give us a call, we can let them know what classes are in their area,” said Simpson. “Maybe our online classes are preferred, but people can call or reach out if they have any more questions.”

Registration is available by calling 1-800-559-4880 and information is available at www.seniorsforsafedriving.com.

The course costs $16, with the basic course lasting seven hours and the refresher course lasting four. Students must be 55 years old to register.

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