Teach Your Teenager How to Drive, Not How to Pass a Driving Test
Here’s the good news: The American traffic fatality rate is down. Way down. Lower than it’s ever been. Even though 32,310 deaths in 2011 sounds horrific, that’s actually down 25 percent since 2005, when 43,510 people died in car wrecks. Back in the boozy days of 1972, highway fatalities peaked at 54,589. And remember, there were a lot fewer cars and people in the country in the early 1970s. That may be cold comfort for the families and loved ones of the 32,310 people who perished last year, but, as a society, that number is cause for celebration.
But here’s the bad news: Inexperienced teenaged drivers cause more than 10 percent of traffic fatalities. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of death amongst teenagers, just as they are the leading cause of death amongst children younger than 13. To address this issue, many states have implemented graduated driver’s license requirements that have decreased the fatality rates among 16-year-olds. Unfortunately, studies have shown that these policies have simply increased the number of 18-year-olds who perish in collisions.
Based on the evidence, the solution does not appear to be a matter of simply raising the driving age. While there are many reasons that a teenaged driver may find himself in a perilous situation, the research indicates that the vast majority of collisions involve inexperience behind the wheel.
AN OUTSIDER’S OPINION OF AMERICAN DRIVERS
I have a unique perspective on driving. I was born and spent the first six years of life in South Korea (a country with the ignoble distinction of being one of the most dangerous in which to drive). I remember the day that my father, who was 40 at the time, drove his three daughters around Seoul for the first time after having trained for several months with a driving coach. Before that, we had a driver who showed up at our house each morning and whisked us off to wherever we needed to go, or we would take a taxi, bus or subway. It simply wasn’t necessary to drive yourself in that crowded city.
However, because my father needed to be licensed before our immigration to America, where his government employer expected him to drive immediately upon arrival, he needed to learn how. I remember that we were not allowed to talk or make any kind of noise in the car because we might distract him; I squelched a sneeze as to not make any trouble. I remember my dad’s tightened mouth and overly firm grip on the steering wheel. He was taking this seriously, this expensive hunk of steel, his girls in the car, and the ability to cause damage or injury to others. To this day, driving is a task that he approaches with responsibility, and in his 32 years of motoring around his adopted country he has never been in a collision save for a random parking incident.
By contrast, most American teenagers view driving as a birthright, not a privilege. According to portrayals in movies and media, driving represents freedom from parents and restrictions, and the ability to forge your own path, to stay out late, hang out with friends, crank up some really bad music, and exercise your newly vocal hormones in a convenient place. In America, driving is rarely portrayed as the solemn and dangerous business that hurling thousands of pounds of metal, glass, plastic and flesh at 70 miles per hour down a stretch of concrete ought to be.
All too often, parents toss the keys into their child’s hands, eager to be rid of the task of driving them around to various activities, and without first making sure that the kid understands how to react in an emergency situation, how to avoid dangerous situations, what to do if a blowout occurs, and how to manage other driving perils such as rain, snow, and ice. Hell, I didn’t know how to change a tire until I was 26.
GERMANY DOES DRIVER TRAINING RIGHT
Germans take driving much more seriously than Americans do. Cars are instruments by which to transport you and your loved ones in the most efficient, and possibly the most expedient, manner. They are not rolling extensions of your domicile, the place where you can be entertained, where you eat, where you finish up your makeup, where you conduct conference calls, etc. It was only in the past decade that German engineers finally relented to American consumer demands and included cupholders as standard equipment in most of their cars. “They’re cars, not kitchens,” they reasoned.
Germany has one of the lowest incidences of traffic fatalities, yet boasts stretches of highway without speed limits. Drivers can even pay to take hot laps of the Nurburgring; show up with car, pay your fee, and off you go. However, in order to be lucky enough to drive at triple-digit speeds on the beautifully paved Autobahn, you must either be from a different country, or you must pass rigorous German driver training. We would assume that Germans give rental cars driven by Americans a wide berth.
Germans must be at least 18 years old to attempt licensing, a process which requires rigorous and expensive driver’s education classes where teens are trained in all types of different traffic situations, followed by completion of a graduated, two-year course during which the slightest infraction will send you back to square one. Thereafter, licensed drivers are retested every few years to make sure that they are as roadworthy as their vehicle might be.
WHY GERMAN DRIVERS ARE SUPERIOR TO AMERICAN DRIVERS
While driving in Germany may be intimidating at first, you get used to it quickly. Acclimating is easy to do when you’re confident that everyone on the road is obeying the same set of rules. German drivers are focused on the road and the task at hand, and very few of them commit the random acts of lunacy that can lead to the collisions that we see all too often on American roads.
In Germany, nobody has anything to prove. Nobody is mindlessly sitting in the left lane. Nobody gets pissed off if rapidly approaching drivers flash their lights to pass. Nobody speeds up to prevent a pass, and then smugly slows down to enjoy a fleeting moment of pathetic superiority. And nobody is more worried about spilling Starbucks on their dress than getting to their next destination alive.
AMERICAN DRIVER TRAINING IS A JOKE
Of course, in America, driver’s education is also required before becoming licensed, but it’s long been a running joke in this country. Driving schools are often chosen for their brevity, cheap cost, or their ability to make you laugh in class. Driving examinations can be passed if you do little more than signal turns and stick to the speed limit. Driving tests are taken after reading booklets that give you all the answers. That’s crazy. We need to make the training that first-time drivers receive far more rigorous so that everyone can enjoy a certain measure of confidence and safety on the road, and to save our kids’ lives.
EXTEND YOUR CHILD’S LIFE. TEACH THE KID TO DRIVE, NOT PASS A TEST.
If you’re serious about giving your children the training they need to perform more than simple lane changes, left turns, freeway merges, and parking maneuvers, there are numerous driving schools that offer advanced driver training for teenagers:
Honda Teen Defensive Driving Program at the Mid-Ohio School
Tire Rack Street Survival Teen Driving School — Sponsored by BMW Car Club of America
SPEEDY MOMMY SAYS…
As parents, it is our duty to make sure that our kids know what being a good driver means. It means more than simply following the rules of the road. Being a good driver means driving without distraction, being able to take evasive measures without wrecking the car, and knowing both how the driver should react and how the car will react in unanticipated situations. Good drivers wear a seat belt, don’t drink and drive, and don’t text or make phone calls while driving. Teaching teenagers how to drive well, rather than just how to drive, may mean coughing up more money and making a greater effort, but the end result will be well worth your while. Let’s not let our children take their last car rides in a casket. Not on our watch.
– Liz Kim