Save Our Teen Drivers

Advocating for driver's education changes. Educating the public on the problem. Finding a solution that saves lives.

Archive for the ‘dmv driver's training’ Category

STANDUP must go beyond “no”

Posted by lapearce on October 5, 2010

Police Captain, and father of a teen killed in a car crash, speaks for STANDUP

The family members of teens killed in car crashes recently made a plea to Congress to pass the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection– or STANDUP— act.  The act would put uniform standards nation wide on drivers under the age of 18, increasing the rules that young drivers have to abide by.

Stricter teen driver laws, also known as graduated driver’s licenses, do a lot to reduce crashes and deaths among teens.  The laws do work, and uniform driving standards would be an excellent addition to our nation,  however, I think to truly stop the epidemic of teen driving deaths we have to go beyond telling teens “no”.

The real reason why car crashes account for 40 percent of teen deaths, in my opinion, is because of a lack of education on how to drive and over emphasis on what not to do.  Just saying no doesn’t work with teens– don’t driver after 10 p.m., don’t drive with friends, don’t drive with your cell phone– can encourage kids to act out by doing what they aren’t supposed to do.  The why do these no’s also aren’t fully enforced in current teen driving education.  Just saying no isn’t the solution, putting a teen in a car in a controlled environment and showing them the why behind the no can go much further.

Germany has much stricter driver’s education and driving laws than the United States do.  Not only do teens not get the opportunity to drive until they are 18, teens also go through much more intensive training (28 hours in the classroom and 35 hours behind the wheel compared to as little as no formal training in the United States) and a far more rigorous testing process.  Germany teens know that driving is a privilege, and they are made aware of the consequences of treating it as anything else.  As a result, teen driving deaths in Germany are far less than in the United States.

For teen driving deaths to drop in the United States we need a complete overhaul of the system, not just in the restrictions teen drivers face after they get their license, but in the training they receive before they are allowed to drive on our roads.  We need to change the mindset of the American public when it comes to driving.  It is a privilege and not a right, that paradigm shift within the American psyche will do a lot to curb teen driving deaths.

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Connecticut parents appreciate more education

Posted by lapearce on January 28, 2010

After a series of deadly crashes in 2007, Connecticut decided to ramp up its teen driving education and laws to help prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. The state began to require teens take eight-hours of instruction, added new graduated drivers license laws and became one of the first states to require parents take instruction as well.

The mandatory two-hour class is designed to help parents help their children learn how to drive. The course goes over driving laws, penalties, distractions and other topics (however, it doesn’t look like pointers on how to teach your child how to drive is part of the curriculum). A survey of parents who took part in the program by Preusser Research Group found that parents overwhelmingly supported the class and felt that they learned something.

85% of parents said the class gave them new information and most agreed that it changed the way they taught their teens. The parents were more likely to enforce laws and spend more time in the car with their teens than before taking the class. This is a huge benefit to the new drivers, since there is a direct correlation to parental involvement and crash reduction.

I hope that other states look at Connecticut’s success with their new program and begin to implement similar programs in their own states. Instruction and getting parents involved are both keys to stopping the teen driving epidemic.

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Teen accidently kills father during driving lesson

Posted by lapearce on August 20, 2009

Crash caused by a permited driver in a 500hp SUV. She confused the gas with the brake and panicked. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Crash caused by a permitted driver in a Corvette-powered SUV. She confused the gas with the brake and panicked. Luckily, no one was hurt.

This is a tragic situation that occurs from time to time. 13 year old boy begs father to teach him how to drive the family’s car. While trying to teach his son how to park, the boy loses control and accidentally runs over his father, killing him.

The boy is reportedly tramatized by the crash, who could blame him?

The scars left from this incident will never heal. The boy who was so eager to drive will most likely lose that drive, and the family will never get back their father. Crashes like this one can be avoided, though, and the father unfortunately stacked the cards against himself and his son while starting the lesson by trying to do too much (parking) too soon (13) with too much car (a 380-550hp [depending on trim] Porsche SUV). Make sure you don’t make similar mistakes while you teach your child to drive, it could be the difference between life and death.

Crashes like this happen more than you may think. A few months ago I taught an 18 year-old girl how to drive. She was absolutely terrified to be behind the wheel. I finally coaxed the reason for her fear from her. She ran over her mother when she was 15, the first time behind the wheel. Like the father in the above story, her mother made the mistake of being out of the car while trying to teach her how to drive. She was showing her the pedals while standing outside the door and told her to hit the gas (I’m assuming she thought the car was in park). The girl floored it, running over mom and braking her leg. The girl was so traumatized that it took four years for her to get back behind the wheel of a car.

My dad too had a similar experience when learning how to drive. His mother got out of the car to help him park. He accidently hit the gas and knocked his mom to the ground. Luckily, she wasn’t seriously hurt.

There are some parallels in all above stories, these are mistakes parents can learn from to keep themselves, and their teens safe when teaching them how to drive.

  1. Stay in the car! Your child should not be operating a vehicle if you are not in it. It is illegal and dangerous. They are unfamiliar with the controls and the dimensions of the car. If you are outside of the car you are automatically a target for them. You also lack the ability to instruct them or grab the controls in case they make a mistake.
  2. Start in a large, empty place. The fewer things for them to hit the less likely they’ll be involved in a crash, and the lower the stress level on them. I highly recommend college parking lots on weekends, or a similar large venue on an off day. This gives them room to make mistakes and learn from them the easy way, instead of hitting walls or people.
  3. Work on the easy stuff first. You don’t teach your child to run before they crawl, so don’t work on difficult aspects of driving (like parking) before working on the fundamentals. The first items you need to go over are the controls of the car. Teach your child where everything is. The female student I had couldn’t figure out how to get the car in reverse after hitting mom because she wasn’t shown where reverse was. (For this part of the lesson teach with the car off, to be extra safe.)
  4. Move up in the lessons slowly. After you show them where all the controls are drive around slowly, working on pedal modulation, steering, and visual skills.
  5. Know how to pull the plug. Where is the emergency brake on the car they are learning in? Is it a hand brake or a foot brake? Hand brakes are better when teaching your child because you can reach over and grab it to stop in an emergency. If you have a foot brake be prepared to put the car in neutral and grab the wheel. Make sure you can take control if your child loses it.
  6. Expect the unexpected. Sometimes teens hit the wrong pedal. They get scared and the freeze. This causes a lot of crashes in the early days of driving. Never think that just because your new driver seems to be getting the hang of it that they can’t make this mistake. It happens sometimes to people who have been driving for years.
  7. Make sure the car they are learning in is appropriate. Large cars, powerful cars, and cars that are just generally difficult to drive aren’t good to learn in. Cars with a lot of power typically have touchy brakes and throttle operation. This can frighten new drivers and cause them to panic and crash. Large vehicles are difficult to control and stop, leading to a higher likelihood of a crash. The worst thing you can use to teach your child how to drive in, in my opinion, is a large, powerful SUV. If that is all that is available for you consider renting a car. If that is the car your child will be driving re-evaluate your choice. Safety is number 1 and you want to give them the best chance they have to not be involved in a crash.

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How much behind the wheel training is enough for new drivers?

Posted by lapearce on July 24, 2009

In the United States we have varying requirements for behind the wheel training for new drivers. Some states require 25, others 30, but the best states require 50. These requirements all pale in comparison to Australia’s mandated 120 hours of behind the wheel training. However, Barrie Sinclair, professional driver and driving instructor, argues that it isn’t nearly enough time for drivers to become confident behind the wheel.

I have heard it say that it takes five years before someone becomes an average driver. Not Mario Andredi, just a good enough driver as the rest of the bad drivers out there. Five years. So Mr. Sinclair has a great point that 120 hours, or five days, of experience, is not nearly enough to equipt teens with the knowledge they need to be safe on the road.

One of the biggest problems, he finds, is that many teens don’t drive the 120 hours that are required. A survey of 1300 Australian teens found that 40 percent lied, or knew someone who lied, about their hours. Sound familiar mom and dad? We do it here too for a third of the hours.

The other problem, says Sinclair, is inexperience.

“They tend to think that they are bullet-proof and 10-feet tall… Virtually all of them come to see me when they are nearing the end of their 120 hours and tell me they are going for their license in three weeks and that they will get it. I don’t think they are ready but then they go for their test and they get given a license.”…

“As soon as they get their license they take off on a trip to Sydney or down the coast… They have not had any life experience outside of their 120 hours, which is nothing. It’s scary and it needs to be addressed.”

Mr. Sinclair thinks the problem needs to be addressed with more education and yes, more training. He wants driver education to be in high school cirriculum and required time in the car with a driving instructor, which Australia currently doesn’t have a law on. He thinks that boiling down education to a piddly 120 hours of in-car training has killed driver’s education in Australia.

More education comes at a cost. I feel that is one of the biggest reasons why more education isn’t required in the United States, Australia or many other countries where the love for the road and the mindset that driving is a right and not a privilage, overshadows the want to create good, safe drivers. Here in the United States, where the best states require less than half of the drive time Australia requires for permitted drivers, parents complain that driver’s education is too costly.

I would like to remind them that the average cost of a crash in the United States is $19,000 and that car crashes are the cause for nearly 40 percent of teen deaths. Yet they complain about the cost of a class that is less than most insurance deductibles. Talk about having their priorities askew! Until it happens to them it isn’t real. But until it happens to them, they may no longer have a child, or at the very least, be out of pocket thousands of dollars in insurance deductibles and increases. It is far less costly to prevent the crash through proper education, please, refocus your attention on making your child the best driver they can be, and not on your pocket book.

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Connecticut DMV says teen driving laws are working

Posted by lapearce on July 24, 2009

Speeding convictions have dropped 43% over the past two years in Conn.

Speeding convictions have dropped 43% over the past two years in Conn.

Teen driving laws that took effect about a year ago in Connecticut seem to be making an impact. The DMV says there has been a drop in fatalities caused by teen drivers as well as a significant drop in convictions for driving-related offenses among teenagers.

The laws, which took effect last August, included stricter curfews for new drivers, more on-the-road training and tougher drunk driving penalties.

A recent study out of Australia showed that inforcement is a very good way to make teens follow laws. The fear of getting caught is more than the fear of dying among new drivers, it seems. These laws save lives and not enough states have them. However, just because a state has a shiney new graduated driver’s license law doesn’t mean that education should be shelved. Teaching teens how to drive is still far more important than just punishing them for making mistakes.

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Study finds teens like to learn the hard way while driving

Posted by lapearce on July 21, 2009

A recent study by the George Institute for International Health out of Australia found that teens often times do not listen to the warnings given to them in driver’s education and instead insist on learning the hard way out on the road. The study found that driver’s education does not encourage teens to drive safely and only the fear of repercussions (i.e. tickets) will force teens to drive safely.

“No one has been able to demonstrate any really good safety benefits in driver education in giving people information about risk.” said Associate Professor Rebecca Ivers.

I agree with Ivers. Yes, I am a driving instructor and I agree with her that driver education does not give people information about risks. That is because it doesn’t, and that is why I do not teach for a DMV approved school, but for a non-profit that focuses on teaching what the risks are, why they exist and what drivers can do to avoid them.

Current DMV drivers education is absolutely worthless in this country. We tell teens what to do and what not to do, but we don’t show them the why. Failing to give proper explanation or illustration for the rules we expect them to follow just encourages them to push the envelope, in my opinion.

I don’t think we can rely on the police to encourage teens to drive safety either. There aren’t enough of them to enforce the laws to make that big of an impact, especially now as budget cuts are hitting every level of government. Teens need to be afraid of their parents as well. Parents NEED to be able to wield control over their teens with clearly laid out rules and punishments for not following them. Here is a great article in the Examiner about one inattentive teen with a lead foot, and parents who would not enforce the rules they set to protect her from herself.

Everyone who is involved in teen driving knows that the current driver’s education isn’t up to par. But at the same time, states that don’t require driver’s ed have more crashes than states that do require it. It obviously has some impact on how new drivers act on the road, but it can have so much more. We need to mandate car control/defensive driving in our driver’s education classes! We need to show teens the risk so that they don’t find it on their own.

Currently Congress is looking to enact STANDUP, a law that would have nation-wide teen driving laws, instead of on a state-by-state basis right now. This law does not have any provision for defensive driving training. Please write the authors of STANDUP and your representatives (link on right hand side) and urge them to look into this as a way to fix our broken driver’s education.

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Florida asks parents to do more with teen drivers

Posted by lapearce on June 23, 2009

Possible scenerio of parent & teen learning how to drive on Floridas web site

Possible scenerio of parent & teen learning how to drive on Florida's web site

Florida does not require teens to have any former driver’s education before they can obtain a license. The state also high on Allstate’s list of deadliest states for new drivers. So in response, the state is asking parents to do what it cannot: teach teens how to drive. It should be easy, because for many teens, parents are the only driving instructors they get in Florida.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles just added a portion to their teen driving web site designed to help parents help their new drivers. A little late to the party, but better late than never.

The page is designed more to inform parents of teen driving restrictions than to give them advice on how to teach their teens to drive. What information the site does have for parents is fairly basic and common sense, in my opinion, but I don’t think I should assume that everyone knows that you should come to a complete stop at stop signs, or look behind you when backing up. Lord knows so few people actually do these things on the road.

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Tennessee deaths increase after graduated driving laws

Posted by lapearce on June 23, 2009

Winding rural roads, low seatbelt use, and no drivers ed blamed for Tennessees teen crash rate

Winding rural roads, low seatbelt use, and no driver's ed blamed for Tennessee's teen crash rate

Tennessee passed graduated driving laws that restrict the hours teens can drive and the passengers they can have eight years ago. Regardless of this law, Tennessee is still the sixth deadliest state for new drivers, what’s more, Tennessee’s deadliest year for new drivers came in 2002, a year after the law was passed, when deaths jumped from 87 to 106.

Kendell Poole of the Governor’s Highway Safety Administration knows what the problem is: Tennessee has no requirement for driver’s ed. “If we had mandatory driver education, we would be able to reduce teen fatalities across the state.” She said.

Tennessee officials say that the state is probably dangerous due to the lack of required driver’s ed, poor seatbelt use among teens, and text messaging. They also point to the twisty rural roads as probably increasing teen deaths, which I agree with. Teens statistically are the worse at factoring speed and turning for curves and it is a common place for crashes involving new drivers.

Irwin Goldzweig, an assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville agrees that the answer is driver’s training: “It is like kindergarten — you have to have it because it provides the basic essentials.” He also points out that Florida, another state that doesn’t mandate driver’s education, is also very dangerous for new drivers.

I can’t believe any state out there allows teens to get a license without teaching them how to drive. It would be like teaching a kid how to play football by giving him a rulebook. Anyone who has played sports or have a child in sports knows that this isn’t the way to do it. Practice is the way to teach a child how to play sports.

Most pre-season sport camps set up to prepare new players for the game spend far more than 50 hours teaching children how to play with drills and practice games. I’ve asked driving students of mine who excelled in sports how long they thought it took before they would call themselves good at the sport they played. The typical answer is years.

Years spent learning how to do something that may pay for college or maybe, just maybe lead to a career. But driving is something that people do every day. It is the most dangerous thing for a teen to do and they are literally risking their lives every time they get behind the wheel. Yet we let them do this without any training?

We have lost our minds, and the death rate of Tennessee makes this obvious.

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Delaware ups commitment to teen drivers

Posted by lapearce on June 8, 2009

“In 2008, teen drivers in Delaware made up 5% of all licensed drivers, but were involved in 10% of all vehicle crashes,” said Jennifer Cohan, Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles today during the unveiling of a number of new teen driving programs aimed at reducing crashes and deaths among new drivers.

At the press conference today Lt. Governor Matt Denn and representatives from the Teen Driving Task Force,  a collection of agencies that educate teen drivers, including announced the programs that aim to educate teens and parents more about the dangers of driving.

These programs include the newly launched http://www.teendriving.dmv.de.gov, which has information about laws, tips and stories (well, one story so far) from teen drivers about safety. Delaware is also introducing a class for teens and parents about graduated drivers license laws that hopes to increase knowledge, and parental involvement in teen driving. Parental involvement has shown to significantly decrease crashes, the involvement of parents in this plan is paramont, in my opinion, to its success.

Delaware will also hand out reflective stickers identifying new drivers at DMV locations. They are not mandated like they are in New Jersey.

These new initiatives were created through a joint effort by: Division of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Education, the Office of Highway Safety, Delaware State Police, AAA Mid-Atlantic, and SmartDrive. The Teen Driving Task Force was founded last year to come up with solutions to the teen driving problem with the goals of educating teen drivers and their parents about the safe driving skills, training, and the consequences if ignored.

I would have liked to see the Task Force take on the driving skills and training aspects more, but any improvement is good improvement.

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People complain about “cheap” driver’s ed costs

Posted by lapearce on June 4, 2009

I’ve spoken to a few people who learned how to drive in Europe and Japan. One such man from Norway explained a driver’s education system that puts ours to shame. the process, first and foremost, takes a lot longer and includes a lot more instruction. Before receiving his license he had to prove that he could drive in snow, ice and rain, drive a manual transmission, drive on the highway and perform basic maintenance tasks. And people complain here about needing to know how to parallel park!

The cost of getting a license in Norway: over $2,000 USD.

And Norway is not the exception of the rule. Countries across Europe require similar skills at similar costs. In Japan there are driving schools set up all over the country where teens can learn in a safe place how to control a car in a number of different situations on closed courses. After they receive their license they are branded as new drivers with a sticker. If you crash into a new driver it is automatically your fault, because you are a professional, and they are just a novice. What a different mindset than we have here in America.

Because of the difference in our requirements, and the mindset Americans have toward driving (we feel entitled to the right to drive, not privileged to receive the responsibility like in so many other countries) I was not surprised to read this article from Massachusetts where families complain about paying $800 for driver’s training, over a thousand less than many European countries.

The costs of getting a license in Massachusetts were increased because the driving training requirements have increased. Teens need 12 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction compared to just six hours prior to 2007. Doubling the time with an instructor has, predictably, doubled the average costs of licensing.

Example of Japanese novice driver sticker

Example of Japanese novice driver sticker

Despite a 1:1 ratio of hours-to-costs in Mass. people are still complaining about these “exhortation” costs. “It’s ridiculous,” said Meaghan Huleatt, 17, a recent driver’s education graduate who will be a senior at Barnstable High School in the fall. “They’re asking for way too much money.”

Tom Furino, who started the non-profit M.V. Drive for Life after losing his son, David, in 2005, is partially responsible for the increase in driver’s training requirements. He also feels, however, that the added costs can be offset by 5 percent surcharge on moving violations that would be used to fund high school driver’s training courses. He believes this could save families at least $100. However, in a time of budget cuts, he is skeptical that his plan will make it through legislation.

Even with the “high” costs of licenses in Mass, people are still getting them. They still want to drive.

Thomas Vitanen, program director at Grand Prix Driving School points out that the added education can pay for itself in insurance savings, which are typically around 10 percent a year. I’d also like to point out that if the increased education saves your child from one crash, it paid for itself in the savings of the insurance deductive, let alone the increase you’d see on your insurance.

However, the increased driver’s education goes a step further than just saving people money on their insurance: it will potentially save lives. I am still left speechless at parents who won’t pay for supplemental driver’s education because it is “too expensive” what is the value of your child’s life? If it saves a life, isn’t the extra cost worth it?

The bottom line is that we need better, more comprehensive driver’s education in America, and that it will come at an extra cost. Driving is not a right. It isn’t something that someone deserves or should just get just because they turn 16. It is a responsibility. It is a privilege. People should be prepared for it. Yes, I understand that increased costs are difficult for a lot of families, and that some people will not be able to afford it. I understand that our pathetic public transportation system would make it difficult for these families to find an alternate solution. I believe that these issues are the reason why America is so far beyond Europe and Japan in driver’s training. Those places have great public transportation, and in Japan especially, driving is not seen as a right.

For the time being, I beg the people of Mass. to realize the benefit to the increased requirements. They pay off and they save lives.

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