Refresher course helps area residents drive 55+
Drivers who complete the course every three years can save an average of $110 per year off their car insurance.
A defensive driving course offered regularly by Park Rapids Community Education helps take a bite out of auto insurance premiums for drivers aged 55 and over.
Retired fifth-grade teacher Steve Prenevost has been teaching the class for the past nine years. Nicknamed “Prennie” during his 34-year teaching career, he has been certified as a drivers’ safety instructor since 2013.
Why are mature adults learning about defensive driving?
“It’s something all of us learned when we got our permit, and we’ve just forgotten it over the years,” Prenevost said. “That’s one of my goals in this class, just to review what we’ve all known at one time in our life but have forgotten. It gives us a chance to review, remember and be aware of what the news laws are.”
For example, he said, “If there’s an emergency vehicle on the side of the road, you have to at least slow down and, if possible, you move over. There’s the ‘slowpoke law’ (where) slower drivers are required by law to drive on the right-hand side if it’s a two-lane road going in the same direction, just to keep traffic flowing.
“We go over if there’s aggressive drivers, what to do in those situations. And just the quirks of Park Rapids like, those are turn lanes on Hwy. 34. Those aren’t acceleration lanes. Those are for turning only. If people start using those for acceleration lanes, it just throws everybody for a loop.”
Students aged 55 and over can get a 10% discount on their car insurance every year. “On average, they’ll save $110 a year for a $25 class, and this is good for three years,” said Prenevost. “So, $8.33 a year to save $110.”
He said there’s an option to do it online, but attending the live class provides an opportunity to ask questions. “We try to make it more interesting than just looking at a computer screen.”
The philosophy of the class is aimed at preventing accidents, even where a senior driver is not at fault. “We don’t want our cars damaged,” said Prenevost, “and we don’t want people hurt.”
He added that because the class is made up of older drivers, “we talk about what we need to do to maybe be a better driver, even though we can’t see as well or our reaction time is slower, all the physical troubles associated with getting older.”
Issues for senior drivers
The initial class is eight hours long, broken into two days. According to Community Education Director Jill Dickinson, this is offered three times a year, in February, June and October.
Repeat students may take the four-hour, single-session refresher, offered monthly. The next refresher class is scheduled for March 22.
According to Michelle Piepkorn with Community Ed, enrollment averages around 38 students per class, though Dickinson admitted the numbers have been down since COVID-19 broke out.
“The Community Ed people are great,” said Prenevost. “They’re the ones that take care of the scheduling, and knowing when people want to have a class.”
He still uses magnetic miniature cars and road diagrams, inherited from longtime instructor Dick Devine, a retired state trooper. “I’m trying to replace him, which is not easy, because had a lot of great state trooper stories,” said Prenevost. “He was a great teacher.”
Among the students in the March 2 refresher course who had taken the class before were Lon and Jan Krieg, who live north of Eagle Lake.
“I think this is our fourth time,” said Lon, adding, “It’s boring.”
“Don’t say that,” Jan laughed.
“It is,” said Lon, adding that he doesn’t feel he needs it. However, he acknowledged that it saves on his insurance.
“Prennie’s a great teacher,” added Jan, and Lon agreed.
Tony McKeown, who attended January’s refresher course, said Prenevost has been doing a particularly good job with the class.
Don and Ruth Toppari previously attended defensive driving courses in Sebeka and Menahga before taking Prenevost’s March 2 refresher.
“I think they were very good,” said Ruth. “It’s just a reminder of things that you maybe don’t think of sometimes.”
Don said it covers things like whether you should make one left turn or three rights, being prepared for today’s blindingly bright-blue headlights, and other things senior drivers must pay attention to.
“It’s been wonderful,” Dickinson said. “It’s been nice for (the students), so they don’t have to do it online. They can come in person and ask questions.”
For the two-day initial class, Dickinson noted, Prenevost brings in guest speakers. Refreshers are scheduled at different times of day to accommodate all groups of people, with an evening class about three times a year.
Classes are currently held in the Frank White Education Center, but with the building slated for demolition, the class will move to a new location starting in April.