BY MICHAEL SUMMER, MD – Summer FamilyCare
Many teens can’t wait until the day they can drive themselves; it’s a big step in their independence (and for the parents, too). To be able to qualify to take the license exam, they have to sit through some classroom time, drive for a few hours with an instructor, practicing some very basic driving situations, and then log time driving while accompanied. Seems like a lot of experience, right? Wrong.
That’s just not enough, in my opinion.
Okay, here’s the scary number part:
Teens are more likely to die from a car crash than all other medical problems combined. Each year in vehicle crashes, approximately 450,000 teens are injured, 27,000 are hospitalized, and 5,500 die.
The youngest drivers are the riskiest. Drivers age 16–19 are twice as likely to crash as drivers 20-24; and three times more than those 25–29. Clearly, experience is the main factor here.
Nearly 50% of teen driver fatality accidents involve a single vehicle.
Distractions play an ever-growing role in car crashes, and not just with teens. However, because of their inexperience, distractions affect teens more. I am not just referring to phone/texting (that’s a whole separate issue: just don’t do it), but consider this: the risk of crashing increases—exponentially—with the number of teen passengers, meaning, one passenger: twice the risk. Two passengers = 4 times the risk, 3 passengers = 8 times the risk, and so on.SML
I frequently hear parents saying something like, “I am going to get her a big SUV to drive when she gets her license so she will be safe if she crashes.” Well, if something smaller crashes into her, that is probably true, but a large vehicle is more difficult to maneuver, more difficult to be aware of the borders of the vehicle, see nearby cars from inside, and worst, can carry more distracting passengers (it will happen). And what about the other drivers she is more likely to crash into?
Here’s the one bright spot in the statistics: the actual number of deaths from car crashes has declined over the last 40 years by about half. This is due solely to the vast improvements in vehicle safety design and equipment. You are simply more likely to survive a crash now, due to safer cars. But that’s not good enough,
either. Avoiding a crash is obviously better than relying on your car to protect you when you crash. How about we try to learn to avoid crashing, and not just by reducing distractions, but by maneuvering the car?
“Defensive driving” is the focus of “driver’s ed,” and yes, is extremely important. Being aware and staying aware of your surroundings and what other cars are doing will help you stay out of situations that lead to crashes. One of my common points of advice is to keep an eye on a car stopped at a STOP sign until you are past, especially now that drivers choose to use STOP signs as a place to check their phone. Also, even if you have the green light, look both ways, and so on.
But what if someone unpredictably slams on the brakes in front of you, or suddenly swerves into your lane without warning? What if you drop the right wheels off the side of the road (everyone has done it)? What if you are taken by surprise by a curve that is damp and the car starts to skid? They may tell you to turn into the skid, but what does it actually feel like?
So, finally, here is the point of this article: Teen drivers need to learn accident avoidance and vehicle control. This is not what they learn in “driver’s ed,” but things that you do not do in normal driving, which is all about being careful, easy, and smooth with no sudden changes in speed or direction. I am talking about becoming familiar and even comfortable with controlling a car in an emergency situation in order to hopefully prevent a crash, and not something they can (or should) be practicing in normal driving, or even on public roads at all.
Things such as:
-What it feels like to brake hard and change lanes to avoid someone who swerves in your path.
-What it feels like when your vehicle starts to skid, and how to control it and hopefully correct it.
-How to safely deal with dropping the right-side wheels off the road.
-How it feels to maneuver a car at higher speeds with control.
So, you may ask, how can you teach your newer driver these critical skills? Take them to a teen driver school. Please. It will be one of the most valuable days of your, and your child’s, life.
I recommend this to all parents of new drivers when they are here for a checkup or other office visit. Many of you have already had that conversation with me and know about these kinds of schools. My two most recommended classes are:
Street Survival ( streetsurvival.org ), and
B.R.A.K.E.S. ( putonthebrakes.org )
Street Survival is a roving course that is sponsored by Tire Rack (an online tire store) and the BMW Car Club of America, and is in NC once or twice a year (check their website for schedules). Brakes teaches the same skills, is also held around the country, but is based at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and has regular days there. The main difference between these two schools is that at Brakes you drive their cars, and at Street Survival you drive your own car, or the car you will be driving. All that is required is a valid Learner’s Permit, but I would strongly recommend at least a little experience to get the full benefit.
Both courses are full day (8 hour) classes, and both involve some classroom instruction, but also extended time alone in the car with an instructor, usually in 30–45 min. sessions on each skill. And here’s the best part: Street Survival costs all of $75 and Brakes is officially free but they require a $99 deposit to hold your place. I would be surprised if you ask for the deposit back. These classes would be worth almost any price, but the fact they are so cheap is amazing, removing cost as a barrier for nearly everyone.
While I did not know about Brakes until later, I took my daughter to Street Survival not long after she got her license a few years ago. Let’s just say she had all the enthusiasm that a teenage girl, made to get up at 5am—on a Saturday morning—could muster. You can probably imagine, maybe even feel, the eye rolls and the huffs. Suffice it to say she had a blast, impressed me with a ride (in the back seat) around the course with her instructor at high speed and perfect control, and was asking to go back! You can’t beat that. The only casualty of the day was losing a fog light from nailing a cone at full speed in the slalom course. (She is not one to hold back, if you have not met her. I replaced it easily. It was worth it.) My son will be attending both schools in the near future.
Please consider taking your child to one or both of these courses, if at all possible. The two I have told you about are cheap and worth far more than their price. There are also some other schools in the region that are a little more involved (Virginia International Raceway hosts one, and BMW has a Teen Driver school at their factory near Spartanburg) with significantly higher price tags if you are looking for even more.
As I wrote above, this may be one of the most important days you spend with your child and they will actually have fun, too, in spite of themselves.
Links used for reference: