January 25, 2009
By ELLEN FREEMAN ROTH
education needs major tuneup
My son and daughter told me that students in their driver
education program spent most of their 30 classroom hours
texting friends and doing homework.
The classes are useless, they each told me, and when I
ranted that the classes are important, my daughter retorted,
“You just don’t get it.”
I got it when I attended the state-mandated, two-hour parent
curriculum. For 10 minutes, the teacher reviewed the laws
concerning the junior operator license, then for an hour and
50 minutes he detailed his personal driving history (which
included extensive drag racing as a teen).
And the driving lessons? The instructor told my daughter she
was almost ready to get her license. That was around the
time my daughter nearly drove us into an oncoming car when
she failed to yield on a left turn.
Driver education programs are licensed by the state Registry
of Motor Vehicles, and many programs should have expired
years ago. The National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration cited motor-vehicle crashes as the leading
cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds nationwide. That age
group has the highest fatal crash rate of any age group.
Nearly 3,500 15- to 20-year-old drivers were killed and
another 272,000 were injured in motor-vehicle crashes in
2006, the NHTSA told Congress.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that
lives are saved with graduated driver licensing such as
Massachusetts’ junior operator license, which imposes
curfews and passenger restrictions on young drivers. But
could we do better if those drivers were more prepared to
take the wheel?
Though the driving instructor had given my daughter a green
light to take her licensing road test, I didn’t. (Cue
daughter gnashing her teeth.) I wanted her to get more
experience behind the wheel and that included taking an
advanced driving skills course. I signed us both up for a
four-hour crash-prevention course, In Control Advanced
During the brief and engaging classroom instruction
alternating with behind-the-wheel drills, no students texted
friends or did homework. In a training area under
supervision - as they say, don’t try this on your own - we
practiced heart-racing highway speed panic stops and
emergency lane changes, feeling the seat belts lock and cars
There’s such intense braking and swerving in the drills that
the practice cars need fresh tires every six days.
We learned the danger of tailgating by driving beside a pace
car at what we’d considered a safe distance but in reality
would have ended with a hearse ride for each of us. The
takeaway: Stay at least three seconds behind other cars.
In early drills we sometimes hit the cones - markers for
would-be people, vehicles or trees. By practicing each drill
we all improved our reaction times and handling.
The NHSTA is exploring new guidelines for driver education
program content, delivery and quality control. But the
Registry of Motor Vehicles shouldn’t wait to overhaul
standards and licensing of driver education. It’s time to
buckle down, because drivers education programs that drive
our teens up the wall in class may be doing the same on the