Save Our Teen Drivers

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

Posts Tagged ‘drivers training’

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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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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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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NY is botching new teen driving laws… again

Posted by lapearce on June 17, 2009

Hey Mr. Bill why are you sitting out here? Because the New York Senators are too busy fighting for control to pass me!

"Hey Mr. Bill why are you sitting out here?" "Because the New York Senators are too busy fighting for control to pass me!"

This month a comprehensive teen driving bill made it through New York State Assembly and was passed today.  The bill will require a 6 month period before a permitted teen could get their license and restrict teen drivers from having teen passengers, using cell phones, and driving at night.

A wrote about this before the assembly passed the bill 133-0 in anger because the legislature had failed to pass a similar bill last year for one reason:

It would have required seat belt use for passengers over the age of 16.

Now, study after study shows that seatbelt use is lowest among teenagers than any other demographic. It is also proven that states that require belt use have a higher rate of compliance. But, don’t tell that to New York legislatures, who got so caught up in their own selfishness and dislike for wearing seatbelts, as well as the nuances of what it means to wear one properly, that they rejected the bill over the use of this life saving device.

Well, the legislature looks like it is going to mess up, again, but this time, it is political, not personal.

Even though the bill easily passed legislature, a 31-31 split between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate has left the house divided and without a controlling party. So what is the democratic thing to do in a devided house? Apparently in New York it is to do nothing. They haven’t met in a bill-passing session since the 11th. The 2009 session is ending next week, and with a number of laws expiring in July that will need to be reviewed, who knows if the teen driving law will get passed in time.

Here we are in the middle of the most dangerous time for new drivers, and petty debates over who is the majority party are costing lives in New York. What selfishness, what shame. You weren’t elected to stroke your own ego, to gain control, you were elected to better your state. I would also like to personally single out Assemblyman Gantt for trying to remove part of the law that would ban text messaging. Shame on you for trying to remove such an important part of the bill. Who wants to bet that Gantt likes a little text messaging while he drives, while most likely not wearing his seatbelt, to and from work?

Shame on all of you. Put your egos aside and do your job!

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Rookie Driver magnents now patented

Posted by lapearce on June 11, 2009

I’ve used the Rookie Driver magnet photo in my post about New Jersey’s new teen driver program that mandates novice driver cars be marked as such. Since I’ve been using their photo, I think it is time to give them some credit.

The Rookie Driver magnent is available in all 50 states, so teens who do not live in New Jersey, or Deleware (where stickers are optional) can still let people on the road know that the driver behind the wheel is a new, or “rookie” driver. Rookie Driver hopes that their signs become a nation-wide indicator of a new driver.

The purpose of the magnents, according to Rookie Driver is to “allow experienced drivers in every state to quickly identify the symbol and anticipate common new driver mistakes.”

Another hope for these signs, that New Jersey has identified, is that the teen drivers will drive more carefully because they are branded and know people are watching them.

So if you have a teen driver and do not live in New Jersey or Delaware, but still want to have them identified out on the road, either the Rookie Driver magnent, or Safer Teen Driver’s “How’s My Driver” signs are a good option.

Remember too, though, to talk to your kids about safe driving and come up with rules on your own for them to follow. Don’t just rely on a magnent or a sign to keep your teen under control while driving. They can help, but they are not a replacement for parental involvement.

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Texas close to getting tougher driver’s training

Posted by lapearce on June 10, 2009

Shelby Johnson would have graduated from high school last Saturday, but instead, she didn’t have a chance to make the walk, to receive her diploma, or to throw her cap in the air. She was killed two years ago on her way to school. Her last words were: “Bye daddy… I love you”. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to cry, I don’t know what will.

In honor of his daughter’s death, Phil Johnson campaigned to improve the driving laws in Texas with the “No tears more years” initiative. The bill increases drivers training from 14 hours to 34 (still below the recommended 50) and includes 10 hours of nighttime training, when most accidents happen, as well as bans cell phones.

The bill, designed by Pottsboro police Chief Brett Arterburn, State Representative Larry Phillips and Phil Johnson, has already passed the House and Senate and just waits for the Governor to sign it in as law. “The bill is not to punish a teen or make it harder for a teen to get a driver’s license. The sole intent of the bill is to save lives,” said Chief Arterburn. If the bill becomes law, Arterburn expects it to go into effect on September 1st, just after the 100 deadliest days for new drivers.

Johnson, who also has a 13 year-old-son,  feels increased education is necessary to help ensure what happened to Shelby doesn’t happen to other teens, like his son Ryan. Like many parents who lose an older child in a crash, he struggles with the concept of letting his younger child drive. “Am I going to let him in a car? I don’t know. I guess I can’t answer that right now. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it… I think I would feel differently once the training is there and once he has been trained to get behind the wheel of a car.”

So Governor Perry: the ball is in your court. What are you going to do with it?

Posted in crash, Graduated Driver's Licenses, law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The call that can cost a life

Posted by lapearce on June 5, 2009

If given the option between answering a ringing phone or living, most of us would chose the latter. More and more commonly, however, people are choosing to use cell phones while the drive, and sometimes that means paying for their decision with their life.

On Wednesday a 17-year-old boy was killed while trying to reach his ringing cell phone in his pocket. He became distracted from the road causing him to veer into the medium. When he tried to pull the SUV back on the road he lost control and rolled the vehicle.  Both the driver and his 16-year-old passenger were taken to the hospital for injuries following the crash. The driver passed away yesterday, his passenger has since been released from the hospital.

“It only takes a fraction of a second of unfocused driving to cause a collision that may result in death or serious injury. Focus on driving.” said Traffic Sgt. Tom O’Brien in regard to the crash that took the young man’s life.

Drivers learn this lesson the hard way every day. Some are fortunate enough to learn this before they are put in a life or death situation.  At Siegel High School in Tennessee, for example, an obstacle course was recently set up for teen drivers to navigate while distracted to show what a difference a distraction could make. “I hit most of my cones while I was trying to talk on my cellphone,” said Seth Morgan, a participate in the program.

Another quite simply said, “Stay off the cell phone while you’re driving… Ignore distractions.”

You are four times more likely to get into a car crash while taking on the phone, and the act reduces reaction time to the level of a driver in their 70s. I feel that most people understand that talking and driving are dangerous, but about 70 percent of us admit to doing this. What is scarier is that 20 percent of teens admit to texting while driving, which is far more distracting.

Maybe it’s a mindset that it won’t happen to us. Maybe we feel like we are better than the other drivers out there.  I feel that courses where you can compare how you drive without a phone and with a phone are a great way of sobering us to the hard truth: talking and driving or texting while driving kills.

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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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