Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Advanced" driver training for teens...worth it?

A poster on the forums on recently posed the following questions:

[I] drove back from MA with a couple from Europe the other day - (Germany and Holland). Trip was about 250 miles, and we got to talking about driving.

Their perception was that in the US driving is more haphazard... no lane discipline, erratic speeds etc, when compared to what they are used to in Europe.

Soooo, I'd like to ask about others' perceptions, and I hope we can do it without the whole "It's my right to drive as fast/slow/in between as I want in whichever lane I want" trip.

Do you feel that we are inherently safer on the roads, are you comfortable with your own skill, do you feel that driver training does anything for our young people.... those kinda questions.

As an example, Mr. 16 just got his driver's license, and I am not happy. To put it bluntly, the kid can't drive! He had driver's ed. at school, I paid for a few sessions with a driving school, and I did a lot of seat time with him, along with conversations about driving theory... however, the hand/eye coordination is not there yet, and I am concerned.

I plan taking him to a real driving school, something like Barber, Bondurant, or the equivalent, and (as much as it will increase my stress level in the short term, I'll be teaching him to drive a stick.

What other thoughts are out there?

I responded with the following:

My advice is to forget the "advanced" driving schools (I know this is heresy to some). I attended AutoWeek's Teen Driving Safety Summit in late August in the Detroit suburbs. In connection with Dodge and the Richard Petty Driving Experience, they provided an afternoon's worth of hands-on instruction in skid control, hard braking, and shoulder recovery for the attendees.

It was interesting to be able to experience skids and learn how to correct them (although I pretty much knew what to do from when we had something called "snow" back in the old days).

What amazed me was how hard it was to get the cars to skid in the first place, and this was on pavement liberally sprayed with soapy water. This confirms why in almost 40 years of driving, I've never skidded on dry or even wet pavement except briefly in a straight line for making hard stops. And I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've had to swerve sharply into another lane or partway off the road.

Rather, it's by learning to pay attention to your surroundings, drive at a prudent speed for conditions, anticipate what other drivers may or may not do, and act accordingly. If you drive in this manner, chances are you won't have to make an emergency maneuver in the first place other than a little hard braking.

As a parent, you're in the ideal position to give your son as much experience behind the wheel with you at his side. It's only through repetition that the above skills will be learned, and one day's worth of "advanced driving school" won't do the trick.

Now it wouldn't hurt to show him how to handle skids, but this should be icing on the cake, and you'll have to wait until there's snow or ice on the ground to do it safely at low speeds in a large empty parking lot (assuming security guards won't shoo you away).

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