Save Our Teen Drivers

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

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Will New Jersey’s New Teen Driving Law Make a Difference?

Posted by lapearce on March 27, 2010

An example of the New Jersey new driver sticker

New Jersey’s Kyleigh’s Law is no doubt controversial. A lawsuit arguing that the law was unconstitutional was just thrown out, paving the law for the law that would require drivers under the age of 21 to have a decal on their license plate to identify themselves as having provisional licenses. So will this only cause new drivers problem by identifying them without actually leading to saved lives? Will teens just take the stickers off leaving them pointless? Or will they actually make a difference? 

A lot of states have provisional licenses that put certain restrictions on teen drivers that regular drivers don’t have. However, these laws are difficult to enforce. It is difficult for a police officer to look at a driver for a few seconds as they pass by and ascertain if they are young enough to have a provisional license and if they are breaking a provisional law. Because of that, a lot of police just don’t enforce provisional laws unless the driver is breaking another law at the same time. In an article about a recent change to Indiana provisional laws the police said that they see the laws more as a deterrent and hope that people just follow the laws. 

Even though a lot of states see provisional laws as being secondary offenses that they can add onto a ticket after pulling a teen over for braking another law, or just expect teens to voluntarily comply with the laws, believe it or not, these laws do work. Provisional licences actually reduce crashes by 19%. For every teen that ignores the laws, there are a handful more that follow at least some of the laws some of the time, which helps keep deaths down. The fear a lot of teen have about being pulled over and punished by their parents also does have an impact on how teens drive. They don’t want to get caught doing something they aren’t supposed to do  by a police officer, and many don’t want to risk losing their license in the process.

This is why I think that Kyleigh’s Law will make a difference in New Jersey. New Jersey already has some of the nation’s toughest teen driving laws. It is also ranked one of the best states to be a new driver because of its tough stance on new drivers. People who argue that it is unconstitutional by “unfairly” singling out teens are really missing the point here. Driving is a privilege, not a right. And if it is unconstitutional to put a sticker on a teen’s car it should be unconstitutional to restrict any drivers in any way. The one thing I don’t like about this law is that it’s just another example of states looking at legislation instead of education to solve the teen driving problem. If we just taught our new drivers how to drive we wouldn’t need half the laws we have restricting them. But we’ve chosen the legislative route to saving lives and it is just so unfortunate. The roads would be a safer place if all of the proceeds from the sale of these stickers went to in-car drivers training. All fines for all teen driving law infractions should go to this to help stop the problem before it ends in the death of a teen like Kyleigh and a demand for yet another law.

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It’s Teen Safe Driving Week in California

Posted by lapearce on March 22, 2010

I started this week in San Diego, teaching 60 teens how to be safe drivers at a Teens Driving for Life event. It was a great that was sponsored by San Diego Supervisor Bill Horn, San Diego Sheriff, CHP and orchastrated by my nonprofit, Driving Concepts Foundation. I sat down with one of the Sheriff officers during the day and asked him what he thought of the event. He said it was great and, “ever teen should be required to take a course like this”. That was great to hear coming from someone like a police officer. He wasn’t the only one with that opinion either. The parents were extraodinarily greatful for what their children learned and the teens left with capable and confident in their skills.

It was a great way to start off Teen Safe Driving Week.

Teen Safe Driving Week is an awareness campaign that was started by Impact Teen Driving and made possible by Senator Alan Lowenthal and Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani.

“It is crucial that we educate teens and empower them to promote the safe driving message in order to have a fundamental and sustained behavior shift,” said Dr. Kelly Browning, executive director of Impact Teen Drivers. “This isn’t about bad kids doing bad things, but good kids making poor choices. One poor choice can alter or end their lives and the lives of those they care about.”

The organization’s idea of educating and empowering teens is with peer-to-peer education, which has shown to have a significant impact on teen drivers. It is asking teens to develop messages to promote safe driving among their peers. The event is also launching a contest to develop software that turns phones off while driving when the driver enters *65, for *65 to stay alive. Get it, it rhymes.

]I hope there is a driving component to next year’s event. It is great to talk to people about the problem and to get teens involved to talk to each other about the problem, but talking doesn’t help when a car is out of control. Driving skills and car control is what can bring an out of control car back in control safely. Speed management, space management, being aware of what is happening around you and being able to recognize dangers can help prevent that car from going out of control in the first place.

Dr. Browning is right, this isn’t about bad kids doing bad things, but about good kids making poor choices. We need to show them how to make the right decisions by getting in the car with them and showing them what to do in a safe, controlled environment.

Hopefully Senator Lowenthal or Assemblymember Galgiani will agree with me. Heck, Driving Concepts Foundation will even put on the event 🙂

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The driver’s error factor to Toyota’s acceleration problem

Posted by lapearce on March 9, 2010

This Prius driver called 911 when his car accelerated up to 90mph, a police officer yelled at him to hit the brakes before stopping the car with his bumper

No one wants to be behind the wheel of a runaway car that accelerates on its own. Toyota’s brand is going to be damaged for years to come by this problem and their response to it. But there is an even bigger problem here than sticky accelerators: the drivers who lack the common sense to stop the cars themselves.

To clear the air on the point I’m trying to make: cars shouldn’t accelerate on their own. This problem shouldn’t exist in the first place and it is inexcusable that Toyota allowed so many cars to be made with this problem. But that doesn’t excuse the absolutely clueless drivers who can’t figure out how to put a car in neutral or slam on the brakes. The problem isn’t just with a worn pedal or a misplaced floor mats, it’s with how we are training our drivers and the amount of skills the average driver possesses.

As drivers we are becoming increasingly dependent on our cars to do things for us. We have anti-lock brakes to keep our brakes from locking up. Traction control to keep us from spinning out. Lane departure warnings to tell us when we are leaving our lane. Blind spot indicators to tell us when a car is next to us. Tire pressure monitors that tell us when our tires need air. Automatic transmissions that shift themselves and cruise control that lets the engine accelerate on its own. Plus hundreds of other little computers doing tasks that humans used to do. Not all technology is bad, ABS for example is great, but many of these features are dumbing down the driving population and leading to a generation of drivers who can’t even find neutral on a gear selector.

Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Institution is thinking about solving the problem by adding in yet another computer to do the job for us. The agency is considering mandating that all new cars have an override system where when you hit the brakes it overrides the gas. This technology will be the fatal shot to the already dying manual transmission. Goodbye downshifting, good bye fun, goodbye the last standout of drivers’ input in a world of cars that do everything for you. It is ridiculous and unnecessary too because hitting the brakes in a runaway Toyota will already stop the car.

We need to step up as a society and not just demand Toyota make safer cars, but demand that drivers be given the education they need to solve these problems without the addition of new nanny systems and government oversight. We need to raise voices in concern about all of the electronics that are in control of cars today and ask how necessary they are. Do they really help or are they hurting us by giving us an illusion of safety and reducing our skills to take control when the systems give it up?

No one should have died because of Toyota’s unintended acceleration problem. Everyone should have been able to put the car into neutral and hit the brakes. And if Toyota has some computer that doesn’t allow the driver of the car to do that—then that’s another problem all together.

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New teen driving safety equiptment is born from tragedy

Posted by lapearce on March 6, 2010

Rianna had only been driving for three weeks when she was killed in a crash

I’ve always felt that the best way to remember and honor the dead is to do what you can to ensure what happened to them doesn’t happen to anyone else. That is why after my 16-year-old neighbor Rianna Woosely died in 2005 in a car crash that was a result of too much speed and too little experience, I started teaching teens how to drive. I felt that if I could prevent one death, if I could save one family, school, neighborhood from that experience, than I would be doing a justice to Rianna’s memory.

I was not the only one touched by Rianna’s death. Rianna was driving too fast that night because she was following her boyfriend in his pickup truck. He did not crash, but she did. His father, Todd Follmer,  was haunted by that fact. About a month after the crash Todd was given the opportunity to work for a company that created crash data recorders for NASCAR and other industries when he had an epiphany, “Why not record the data before the crash?”

Enter Tiwi, a portable navigation-sized box that sits on the dashboards of cars. It hooks into the car’s dataport (standard after 1996) and records when the driver drives recklessly, doesn’t use his/her seatbelt, or leaves a predetermined zone.  It also has the posted speed limits for all streets plugged in and can alert the driver to speeding after 1, 5 or 10 mph over the limit. Break a rule, the little box tells you– and your parents– that you aren’t being a safe driver. After the drive the Tiwi gives you a grade for how you did.

The device costs $300 and $30 a month for the software & GPS that keeps it going.The next generation of Tiwi hopes to be able to tell when the driver is on his/her phone or texting too.

With other devices like this there are teens, and even parents, who feel it is an invasion of privacy and very big brother. If spying could save the life of your child than spy away. Where I feel there needs to be criticism of devices like this is in the fact that suppressing the problem isn’t the same as solving it. The problem is that we don’t give our teens enough driving experience to be able to make the right decisions on their own, making us dependent on little boxes that chide them for doing something wrong.

Our drivers training in this country is focused on the rules of the road, not how to drive. Most of us become experienced in crash avoidance when we avoid a crash– or when we don’t, in which case the learning experience could be deadly. It is best to put the kids in their cars on a closed course and teach them where their limits are and what their cars are capable when the only things they can hit are soft, rubber cones– not other cars or trees. If you teach them how to get out of emergencies before the emergencies happen you give them a chance. A message on your phone telling you that your child is driving recklessly may help them not drive recklessly next time, but it won’t save them if they lose control around the next bend.

I don’t want to downplay the potential life-saving good that Tiwi and similar products can do, but it has to be part of a rounded approach to driver’s training. Send your child to a defensive driving course or car control clinic– they cost as much as Tiwi and don’t come with monthly payments, set up a teen and parent driving contract where you outline what is and isn’t allowed and the punishments for breaking rules, then, once you have this foundation in place, monitor their driving.

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When you buy golf clubs you get golf lessons, right?

Posted by lapearce on March 4, 2010

Whether you are learning how to drive a ball or drive a car, lessons are important

I was talking to my friend tonight Jim tonight about getting some grants for the teen driving program I volunteer for, Driving Concepts Foundation. Jim is the executive director for another non profit I help out, Trails4All that builds and maintains trails in Southern California. As I was telling him about the program he told me how great it sounded and that he would love to help us try to find grants to keep the program going.

Jim was a race mechanic for many years and spent a good portion of his adult life around race cars and Baja 500 trucks. But he never drove one of these cars, so a few years ago he decided to take a driving school to improve his skills. He was telling me how beneficial the program was and how much he believes in car control courses for all drivers– especially new ones. He made a really good point, a point made to him by his instructor:

When you go out and buy a pair of golf clubs, what is the first thing you do? You get lessons. When you buy a tennis racquet to get tennis lessons. So why do we buy our teens new cars and not get them driving lessons?

To the parents who have children in sports think about the amount of time they spend at practice. We have our kids spend hours every week learning how to throw or catch a ball for a sport that they play on the weekend. Driving is something they will do every day of their lives, and unlike soccer, can lead to death if they aren’t well prepared for it. If you can afford to purchase a car for your child, to pay for the DMV “training”, to insure the car, buy tires for the car, maintain the car then you can afford a car control course for your new driver. These classes teach valuable skills that can make all the difference in an emergency. So instead of automatically thinking “I can’t afford to send my teen to a driving school” instead think “Can I afford NOT to?”

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Is showing off worth your life?

Posted by lapearce on February 17, 2010

Today I saw my second dead body. The first was in a small, mining town called Trona California. The road turned left, a driver went straight and was ejected from the car. I’m fairly certain it was a drunk driving crash. The second, today, happened when a woman showing her car to a potential buyer hit a tree outside my office at a great amount of speed. She was killed instantly and the interested buyer was injured, luckily he’s going to be OK.

The car was a modified Corvette with a lot of power. The office building is on a curvy road that is popular with test drivers. She didn’t even make it through the first turn. She was obviously showing off and it cost her her life. All because she wanted to impress a potential buyer.

A lot of crashes, especially with younger drivers, happen because the driver is showing off. A lot of people overestimate their driving abilities. When all you do is drive in normal, on-road situations you can’t possibly accurately assess your abilities when you push a car. If all you do is walk, how do you know how fast you can run?

That is why you should never push your car on public streets. There are tracks out there and courses you can take if you want to see what you and your car can do. The benefit of these courses is there typically aren’t any trees or parked cars or buildings right next to them for you to hit. If you lose control you’ll likely get out of it unscathed, this can’t be promised on the open road.

A fatal crash is always tragic. We can never bring back the life that was lost, but we can honor their life by learning from what happened and trying to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes. Please, be safe on the road today, and save the fast stuff for the track. Trust me, you probably aren’t as awesome of a driver as you think you are. I’d happily help you see that on a closed course.

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Teen driving laws aren’t enough to save lives

Posted by lapearce on February 7, 2010

Teen driver was following all teen driving laws when he struck a school bus last Tuesday, killing his sister

At any given time in this country there is a state considering a new teen driving law. Most of these laws restrict what teen drivers can do with the intent of protecting the new drivers. Of course, many teens and parents see these laws as discriminating or “unfair” to “safe” drivers. While I would prefer that state governments took their focus off of driving laws and instead focused their time, money and resources on driver’s education, all of the restrictions they pass are aimed at saving lives, not singling out new drivers.

Take for example Florida’s current attempt to ban new driver’s from carrying passengers. This seems to be the law that has the most resistance from teens and parents. Parents take advantage of their child’s new mobility to have them shuttle around friends, siblings, teammates, etc or be the ones being shuttled around– paying them back for sixteen years of being a taxi driver for their kids. Teens, on the other hand, love to ride with their friends and don’t like giving up this privilege.

One girl interviewed for the Florida law said she felt the law was unfair for responsible teens. The problem here isn’t responsibility, it’s a lack of knowledge, experience and attention plus peer pressure. Even the best drivers can be distracted by other people in the car– I can still be after years of driving– and when you lack experience it can be deadly. Teens are much more likely to crash when they have friends in the car and they are also more likely to drive dangerously.

Because of peer pressure teens are less likely to buckle up when they have other teen passengers. I guess it isn’t cool to save your own hide in a crash. They are also more likely to speed and drive aggressively as they show off their driving skills to their un-belted friends and younger siblings.

However, we can’t rely on laws to solve this problem. Police consistently report that it is difficult to enforce passenger laws. You can’t tell by looking at a driver whether or not they’ve been driving for a month or a year, or whether their passenger is a sibling or a friend. Because of that, most new drivers are cited only if they are pulled over for breaking another law. The solution to this problem isn’t laws, its through the knowledge and enforcement of parents.

No matter how convenient it is to have your teen play taxi driver for his/her friends and no matter how convenient it is to have your teen get a ride from another teen driver, as parents you have to know when to say no. Use common sense: don’t let your teen have passengers if they are new to driving and don’t let him/her ride with anyone who hasn’t had their license for at least six months (preferably a year). Take time into consideration as well, don’t let your child drive/ride in a car late at night when there are more drunks on the road and the driver is likely fatigued.

Also, learn about the friend your teen is getting a ride with. Do they have any tickets? Have they been in a crash? Are they responsible drivers? Talk to your teen about peer pressure, using a seat belt and encourage them to speak up if the driver is being irresponsible. Set an agreement with your child that if they don’t feel safe with a driver that you will pick them up– no matter where they are.

Even if teenagers are following the laws of the state it doesn’t mean they are immune from a crash. Last week a fifteen-year-old girl was killed in Colorado when her sixteen-year-old brother pulled his car in front of a school bus. It was legal for the boy to transport his sister and the fourteen-year-old neighbor also in the car, but for what ever reason– whether it be distraction, not seeing the bus or fog on the window during the cold morning, passenger restriction laws were not enough to save a life.

I’ve heard many parents say that they won’t let their teen ride with any teen driver who hasn’t taken a defensive driving course. This is an excellent idea that I completely support. Education is the key here. You can’t overcome many of the challenges of age and experience that teen drivers face, but you can significantly increase their chances of survival through a defensive driving/accident avoidance course. These classes show teens the dangers on the road, what distractions do to their reaction time and their driving abilities and the abilities of their cars– where are often times grossly over estimated by new drivers. No law can make up for experience.

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States ranked for teen driving laws– how did your state do?

Posted by lapearce on January 27, 2010

"Driving with a passanger after curfew I see"

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents that strive to make America’s roads safer, just released a new study they conducted on state’s teen driving laws. There are huge disparities in teen driving laws from state to state, some states let teens drive when they are 14, others won’t let you have a license until you are 17. Because of the differences from state to state it wasn’t too much of a shock when some states didn’t fare so well in this third-party review.

Ratings were given based on the number of teen laws in place by each state. It looked at seat belt, text messaging, age for learner’s permit, drunk driving laws among other driving laws.

The leader was the District of Columbia, with 13.5 laws following by New Jersey and Illinois. The worst states were:

South Dakota (only three laws)

Arizona

North Dakota

Wyoming

Virginia

Vermont

Pennsylvania

Ohio

Nebraska, rounding up the bottom of the barrel with 6.5 laws.

However, do more laws mean safer drivers? Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report ranked South Dakota as having the safest drivers in the nation, and Phoenix as having the safest drivers of all cities. Both South Dakota was rated the worst state and Arizona was also given a failing grade by the advocates. An AAA report found also that the safest states are not the ones with the strictest laws. As you may expect, when population density increases so does the risk of a collision. There is just more stuff to hit in a busy city than on a rural town- and speeds can be higher on those big freeways. So maybe these less dense states don’t need as many laws, because the risks are different?

I’ve always felt that we focus too much on enforcement and not enough on education when it comes to teaching our teens how to drive.  When your teen was a toddler, you likely had those plastic covers over the outlet to prevent them from getting electrocuted. Why? Because you knew it was a good way to prevent a potentially life threatening situation. This, is like driver’s education. You are preventing the problem by stopping it with a plug. Laws are if you told your 2 year old not to touch then expected them to listen. They might. But they might not. If you see them go for the outlet you can slap their hand and say no, but what if you aren’t there? What if a police officer isn’t around to see your child driving dangerously? Then the defenses have failed and your child is at risk.

I’m not against strict teen driving laws, I just worry that we focus so much on enforcement that we’ve lost sight of education. Instead of continuing to tell our teens no we should just put a plug in it!

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Carnage in California: why can’t we drive in the rain?

Posted by lapearce on December 8, 2009

This happens about this time every year: Southern California gets its first rain in about eight months, the dirty roads get incredibly slick, and car-capades take effect as people slide around, apparently having forgotten how to drive on wet grounds since it has been so long since the last storm. Monday, Orange County had nearly 500 calls about crashes, compared to less than 150 last Monday when it was dry. Luckily,  no one was killed.

California drivers do deserve some slack when it comes to wet weather driving. First, because it rains so little each rain is like the first rain, and our roads are a lot slicker because a lot more oil has been allowed to accumulate in the road. Second: we often times get a lot of rain fairly quickly and our roads can’t cope with it, which leads to flooding and causes more crashes. Third: because it rains only a handful of times a year many of us don’t bother changing tires for winter, many of us will run on summer tires all year long– maybe not the smartest thing to do, but we do it.

All our excuses can’t forgive the truth of the So Cal roads in December. How I see is that there are two fundamental problem drivers out there: the drivers who drive as if it is dry, and the drivers who drive as if it is icy. When the reckless meet the over cautious you get crashes. Throw into the mix the average driver who has increased caution but not to the point where they are a moving road block and well… the whole thing is a mess.

People need to realize that while rain isn’t the end of the world, they need to adjust their driving for the weather. Whoa your speed down, but also important: leave more space between you and the cars around you and be observant. Traction and visibility are often impaired in the rain. This reduces your chances of seeing danger (adding to reaction time) but you can’t make up that lost time because guess what — your car won’t stop as far or won’t grip to the payment. Que the fender benders and spin outs. Instead of having this outcome, just leave more room! Give yourself a lot more space than you would in dry weather and also be watchful, for the people driving as if it wasn’t raining, the people driving as if the world is ending, and the people who are distracted or aren’t leaving the space they need. If everyone just slowed down a little, rainy roads would be a much better place.

Don’t get me started on So Cal drivers in the snow.

Collage of Car Carnage:

Ferrari spun out:

Driver was seriously injured:

Hey truck, you’re not supposed to be on your roof:

Car was hit by an SUV, causing it to spin into the pole:

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Speeding teen kills family of four in Somona, CA

Posted by lapearce on December 3, 2009

This tragic tale happens far too often. 19 year old Steven Culbertson killed a family of four on Saturday night as he ran a red light in his MINI Cooper at 70-90mph. Speed limit on the road is 55mph. His little car t-boned a Nissan minivan killing the family of four inside as they returned from the airport after a vacation in Hawaii. John and Susan Maloney and their children Aiden (8) and Gracie (5) were killed instantly in the crash, Steven died on Sunday due to his injuries. To add salt to the wounds, two deadbeats decided that since the family was dead they no longer needed their worldly possessions and robbed their house. The couple was arrested yesterday, ironically they were found out when the woman, Amber True, was arrested for driving without a license.

Minivan belonging to the Maloney family after being hit by a speeding teen

Steven had his license suspended for a year when he was 17 due to drunk driving. It is unclear at this point if alcohol was a factor in this crash, but an eye witness says he say him drinking two hours before the fateful crash, which, ironically, happened right down the street from Infineon Raceway, a place where people can go those types of speed legally and safely without having to worry about hitting minivans filled with children.

The MINI driver had aspirations of being a racer, and had taken his car to the track– the only place where one should drive like he was driving on Saturday night. Unfortunately, Steven could not separate track driving from road driving and it lead to his death and the death of four others. He made a big mistake, a mistake that could have implications for your teen.

First off, when ever a crash like this happens, the thing that stands out for everyone is the word teenager. Steven just dropped the credibility of all teen drivers by his mistake. Teens already have really low credibility as drivers due to their inexperience, and their propensity to make bad decisions. Teens do cause more crashes than older drivers, but that doesn’t mean that teens are always at fault for their crashes or that all teens will make the same mistake Steven did.

Secondly, when crashes like this happen the natural reaction of many is “change the laws/road so this doesn’t happen again”. People love blaming the road. The road didn’t do anything, it was just a strip of asphalt that accommodated the perpetrator of the crime. There is always something to blame with the road. There’s a rise in the hill that interferes with visibility, or the speed limit is too high, or there aren’t enough barriers, no matter what the case, the road will be blamed. Then people will look at the laws, and not the driver training laws, they’ll try to restrict teen drivers more. This just puts a band-aid on the problem and doesn’t fix anything.

Third: race car drivers or aspiring race car drivers can have their name tarnished. I’m a HUGE advocate of taking your car to the track. You learn so much about yourself as a driver and the abilities of your car when you push it to the limits. It makes you a better driver. It is also the only safe place to drive your car fast. I find that going to the track takes the need for speed away and that I drive calmer on the road for weeks after a good day on a race track. Most of the race car drivers I know drive very responsibly on the road. I don’t want anyone to look down at people who drive on the track, or keep their children from participating in track days, because of this crash. It is worthwhile and driving fast on the track does not mean you will drive fast on the road.
I really hope that one day we no longer have to read stories like this. I hope that one day better training means that drivers are more responsible on the road. Until that day: be safe, and keep it on the track!

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