MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The demographics of Minnesota’s roads are changing. Between 2006 and 2012, the numbers of drivers age 49 and younger fell sharply. Meanwhile, during the same time period, every category of drivers age 50 and older was on the rise.
But from the shape and meaning of road signs to the law allowing right turns on red, a lot has changed over the years.
That became instantly obvious when WCCO’s Bill Hudson agreed to submit to the Department of Motor Vehicle’s written driving exam.
Just 20 questions into the exam, Hudson already missed on four questions. Those included recognizing the meaning of certain yellow road signs and keeping a safe passing distance from bicycles.
On the written test a score of 80 percent correct is required to pass. Hudson was able to muster a score of 86 and proceed to the road test.
“Shut that off then step on the brakes for me,” examiner Mark Larson said as they prepared the vehicle for the highway.
Once behind the wheel and rolling down the streets of Hastings, Larson quickly noticed what Hudson wouldn’t – the vehicle’s blind spots.
Explains Larson, “that blind spot, make sure there’s nothing next to you.”
“I haven’t been doing that?” Hudson asked.
“Not on a few of your turns and the lane change that we did,” Larson said.
It would soon reveal another bad habit that Hudson and other older drivers succumb to – the tendency to cheat on left hand turns.
Larson pointed out the error, saying, “another thing that’s showing up is that you’re cutting your corners.”
The experienced examiner said that drivers tend to become less observant over time. For Hudson, that was obvious when approaching intersections. Never, ever, ever trust that the other driver is going to stop or yield the right of way!
“Observation is a key to a lot of it. It’s not necessarily what you are doing but what everybody else is doing,” Larson said.
Another fairly common mistake Hudson made during the road test was coming to a stop at a marked crosswalk.
The law says a driver must come to a complete stop prior to the painted striping that marks the pedestrian crossing. Once again, I tend to cheat the stop and place the front wheels of the vehicle within the paint.
“You must make the initial stop behind it and if you can’t see well enough to proceed, then it’s OK to pull up on it as long as it’s safe and there is no pedestrian,” Larson said.
Some things, like parallel parking, don’t necessarily get better with age. When you drive a full-sized pickup truck you tend to avoid having to do it and look for spots with a simple pull-in.
When it was all over Larson totaled up the dings and delivered a verdict. He said my observation, cutting turns and stopping at crosswalks need improvement.
So, would Hudson have passed the test?
“You would have been close, but you would have passed, I believe,” Larson said to Hudson.
There’s good news to any driver looking to polish their road skills: it’s called the “55 Alive” course for older drivers put on by the Minnesota Safety Council.
“You’re more likely to drive faster or tail gate when you’re tired,” instructor Dave Small said to a class in Coon Rapids.
Small is a retired Anoka police officer and teaches to full classrooms every week.
Brushing up on their defensive driving will also save the participants money on their car insurance.
“They get 10 percent off on their auto insurance, but they have to take the 8-hour course. Then, every three years they will take a 4-hour refresher course,” Small said.
Because when it comes to safer driving, we all can get a little better. For more information on taking a defensive driving course for older drivers, click here.