Why You Should Take a Defensive Driving Course

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Maybe you’ve been driving more than 30, 40 years. Of course you know how to drive by now. Why take a driving course?

For one, you could save a few hundred dollars.

“If you take an approved driving course, it’s state law that you can save 10% off your auto insurance collision and liability premiums,” said Kerry Donnelly, assistant manager of driver training at AAA Western & Central New York. “That is a huge savings since you receive it for three years.”

She also thinks that it’s practical to brush up on driving laws. It’s so easy for sloppy driving practices to become habits over many years of driving. While you may not have received a ticket for your driving habits, that doesn’t mean you’re OK.

“Regardless of your age, you can get complacent,” Donnelly said. “Hearing others’ experiences make us more aware when we are out there driving.”

She also believes it’s good to improve driving for the sake of the grandchildren. Many grandparents teach their grandchildren to drive since the youngsters’ parents are too busy. Do you want your grandchildren to think it’s OK to roll through a stop? Or not realize that they must by law vacate the lane when an emergency responder is helping someone on the shoulder of the road?

“Things in the law change, like the ‘move over’ law,” Donnelly said. “Ignorance of the law doesn’t prevent you from getting ticketed.”

Formally known as VTL 1144-a (a), New York’s Move Over Law applies to police, medical responders, tow truck operators and other emergency personnel working on the shoulder of the road. The law bears a fine of up to $150 for first-time offenders. Those who violate it second time within 18 months could pay up to $300 and a third offense in that time frame could receive a fine of up to $450. It’s also a two-point offense.

Donnelly said that the AAA course also goes over new features on vehicles, modifications that can extend how long a person can drive safely and how medication can affect driving.

Another newer rule that some experienced drivers may not know about involves the yellow flashing arrow.

Larry Scott, vice president of Morgan School of Driving in Rochester, said, “If you’re in a left turning lane that if has a flashing yellow arrow, you can turn left if it is clear to go.”

Although needlessly waiting for a green light may not result in a ticket, it could lead to confusion and frustration among other drivers.

Like Donnelly, Scott said that bad driving habits picked up over the miles represent the biggest reason to take a refresher course.

“You may turn right on red without making a full stop or even close to a full stop,” he said. “You wouldn’t see a bicycle in the bike lane.”

For drivers who have any points on their record, completion of a course can take off up to four points, although they can’t “bank” points toward future infractions.

Driving courses taken online, such as AARP’s six-hour Smart Driver (www.aarpdriversafety.org) program, which offers the same benefits for $29.95, a cost comparable to in-person classes. AARP members save $4. Taking the course online can help those with a busy schedule.

AAA offers a website that provides tips on medication or supplements and driving, www.roadwiserx.com. Free of charge, users can see how what they take can influence their ability to drive.