Brushing Up Behind the Wheel

Zone director Bev Henning brings information on AARP’s driver safety courses to communities throughout Becker, Clay, Ottertail and Wilkin counties, like this recent event in Pelican Rapids. (Photos/contributed.)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Perhaps you, like Beverly Henning, have been driving for something like 50 years. Why invest a precious afternoon at this point in a driver safety course?
“Roads change. Laws change. Our bodies change,” the AARP instructor says, ticking off the reasons. “Vehicles are changing, too. The car you’re driving today is probably much different than the one you learned to drive in.”
And here’s a fifth reason: If you are over the age of 55, completing the four-hour class – sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons – gets Minnesotans a mandatory 10 percent discount on their automobile insurance.
The Moorhead woman, who has taught AARP driver safety classes through Moorhead Community Education for seven years, concedes that the discount is probably what motivates the majority of men and women who sign up for her four-hour classes. But most would also agree that a refresher course taken decades after winning that drivers license sounds like a good idea.
From figuring out the hieroglyphics on the dashboard to dealing with today’s more aggressive drivers, she says, mature adults may come away with more confidence behind the wheel. “Knowledge protects us from ourselves,” the retired insurance adjuster suggests. “A lot has changed, and let’s admit it: We don’t have the same reaction time we had when we were younger.”
Bev has a passion for safe driving. That comes, she reports, from 46 years spent on the road as an auto claims adjuster and business insurance underwriter for American Family and other insurance corporations. In all those years traveling North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota and part of South Dakota, she says, “I put on a lot of road miles. I saw some good driving and some bad driving.”
A bit of the latter, she admits, may have happened inside her own car: “Sometimes I was in a hurry,” she admits. “But in all those years, I only got one speeding violation. It was back in 1999 on Interstate 94 here in Minnesota. And,” she adds, “unlike our neighbors, Minnesota has some teeth in its tickets.”
She got involved with the nationwide AARP program even before her retirement in 2019. “I took my own class from Larry Crose of Hawley, who was getting ready to retire.” She began offering the AARP class through Community Education with veteran teacher Mary Rolf, who mentored Bev until her own retirement from the classroom.
Bev’s Moorhead classes are usually scheduled monthly. Two are coming up next month, the first on Tuesday, July 9, and the second on Thursday, July 18. Both run from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Vista Education Center. The cost is $25 for AARP members and $30 for nonmembers. To register, go to
Bev also coordinates the AARP driver safety program for Becker, Otter Tail and Wilkin counties as well as Clay, including classes in Barnesville, Hawley and Breckenridge. She will be offering a session in the latter city on July 15. Like all the classes, it’s open to drivers from North Dakota and other locales as well as Minnesota. Upon completing the afternoon course, participants’ insurance companies receive a certificate that qualifies them for the discount.
The same class is offered monthly at the Fargo Library, taught by Dorothy Hancock. That, too, is open to drivers on both sides of the river.
AARP achieved a long-time goal during the 2024 Minnesota legislative session. Prior to July 1, 2024, first-time driver safety students were required to complete not one, but two four-hour sessions to initially qualify for their insurance discounts. As of July 1, that requirement has changed to a single session – the same refresher that’s required once every three years to maintain that discount. In coming years, they hope to convince legislators to another change, dropping the qualifying age for discounts from age 55 to 45.
The class itself relies on the AARP’s Smart Driver Guidebook, with video instruction broken up by classroom presentations and discussion. At the end, the class goes through a test together, emphasizing the key take-aways. The safe driving course can also be taken entirely online, Bev says, but face-to-face sessions give students – and their teacher – a chance to learn from each others’ experiences. “I get as much input as I can,” she points out. “I’ve had over-the-road truck drivers, school bus drivers … I sometimes get as much out of it as the students.”
Her Moorhead courses include information specific to Minnesota. A four-page handout supplements the national manual with laws specific to the North Star State, from driving while impaired and texting or talking on the phone to sharing the road with emergency vehicles, school buses, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians. A similar document covers North Dakota’s laws. Instructions are also reviewed for some local challenges – navigating the Diverging Diamond on exit 1, the unfamiliar new round-abouts, Minnesota’s support of the zipper merge, and the tri-level intersection of Interstates 94 and 29.
Finally, the group discusses the elephant in the room – the reality that while everyone wants to drive as long as they can, some can no longer do so safely. “Some people say they’ll drive until the steering wheel is pried from their cold, dead hands. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens,” Bev notes. “We talk about how to determine when you’re no longer able to drive, along with the many alternatives we have here in Moorhead – Doyle Cab, Uber, the MATBUS system. We’re lucky here.”
Bev’s upcoming classes in July will bring her total very close to 100 classes taught since she began in 2017. Along with the rest of the volunteers who teach AARP driver safety classes, she says the rewards are plentiful.
“I’m not kidding. We really do feel that we’re saving lives,” she says. “Everybody needs to be aware that things change, and keep on changing.”
She adds, “And safety pays. Your insurance discount should save at least $110 in the first year.”

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