02/16/2014 11:49 pm ET Updated Mar 19, 2014

Safer Cars Start with Safer Drivers

If you're into cars, this is your season. Specifically, it is "auto show" season. Since its January kick off in Detroit, hundreds of new vehicle concepts and new products have been introduced. As in recent years, technology has been driving the headlines of every show -- often with a focus on how tech will make our cars smarter and safer.

But for all of the announcements on new innovations that make our cars safer, there are far fewer headlines focused on making the drivers themselves safer.

Plenty of drivers across the U.S. religiously take their vehicles in for service every 5,000 miles. Plenty of others regularly trade in their vehicles for newer models with fancier features. And yet, how often do we as drivers think about refreshing the most important element of our vehicle: the real, live human in the driver's seat? How often do we consider if we are keeping up with the changes, including the changing technologies that are designed to make us safer?

Given the changes on today's roads, and in today's vehicles, I'd argue that it's more important than ever to put the focus back on the person in the driver's seat.

Just think about how much has changed. Inside our vehicles, we're faced with digital dashboards, voice-activated commands, and rear-view cameras to name a few. Outside the car there are even more changes: digital billboards, wider highways, and roundabouts abound.

Despite these significant changes, many Americans don't take the necessary action to keep up. They rely on what they learned in a driver's education class, which for some was more than 50 or 60 years ago.

That's where AARP Driver Safety comes in. Just recently, at an event with the Washington Automotive Press Association, AARP Driver Safety re-launched its national AARP Smart Driver™ Course, which was overhauled using evidence-based research, expert insight, and volunteer input. Although designed primarily for drivers ages 50 and older, the course is open to drivers of any age, and is available in classroom settings across the country and online. (For more on the issues facing today's drivers and what AARP Driver safety is doing about it, watch this new video, "What Does Driving Give You?")

As our research found, it is the very basics that need additional emphasis behind the wheel: how to properly proceed at four way intersections, navigating roundabouts (popping up in neighborhoods large and small across the country), maintaining proper speeds, yielding, sharing the road, and more.

There's no denying that there are more distractions and more distracted drivers all around us, and a simple refresh of our driving skills could be life-saving.

It's true. Driver safety is not as sexy as new cars or new technology, but it's no less important. So, as we kick off a new year, I'd like to offer up a challenge: Consider refreshing your driving skills this year, regardless of age. Alternatively, consider joining our 4,000+ volunteer instructors to bring your knowledge and love of driving to others in your community.

Together, let's make this the year that we focus on safety, behind the wheel. Auto enthusiast or not, it's one story worth focusing on.