Every time I look in the mirror, I’m reminded that I am indeed old enough to have a kid who is driving age. I still feel young and spritely—as long as I get my nap every afternoon after lunch—and it gives me the energy I need to ride shotgun as my son gets behind the wheel every day after school for the long drive home.
Our state did away with driver’s ed in high school long ago—theoretically to save money (note how well our drivers are doing: we’ve set a new record last year for pedestrian deaths, vehicle crashes and resulting deaths are at a crazy high, red light runners rule the intersections, and if you stop at a red light or stop sign before turning right, you are very likely to get hit or honked at). Instead of learning on simulators in classrooms and learning common sense rules and the laws of the road, new drivers literally get tossed behind the wheel of a multi-ton steel box and you’d better hope, folks, that the person teaching them is a decent driver.
In-sanity. There are driving schools, of course, and a student driver must either attend a school or take an online class provided through the DMV, plus log 50 hours behind the wheel. Many choose to take the online class because it’s easy. That’s one reason why we have so many red light runners, non-existent turn signal users, and drivers who can’t think past the hood of their vehicle. Enter Driver’s Edge.
Driver’s Edge is a non-profit 4-hour program that gives drivers ages 21 and younger hands-on experience in panic driving situations. I first heard about this program at a Lifesavers Conference many years ago when I saw their booth. I knew when my kids started driving, I’d have them go through the program. Here we are.
Before we even went outside, Jeff Payne, the founder and CEO of Driver’s Edge, talked to us about statistics and the importance of driver’s training. We’re in the safety business around here and we know kids don’t graduate to safe status once they are out of boosters. On the contrary, that’s usually when they are at their most vulnerable: they start making their own decisions about safety and due to brain and emotional immaturity, those decisions sometimes aren’t the best. Jeff outlined some examples:
- Inexperience: teen drivers simply don’t have the driving experience adults have
- Drinking and driving: still a leading cause of crashes and kids are still riding with drivers who have had alcohol
- Texting and driving: less of a problem than it’s been in the past, but it’s still there
- Seat belts: not buckling up
Driving simulators and political correctness don’t exist at Driver’s Edge. These guys realize that lives are on the line and they cut past the BS; I appreciated the bluntness. Classes are conducted in real vehicles by real race car drivers and there’s an indoor session with local highway patrol and police. Car crashes are the number 1 killer of people under age 21 and DE wants to combat that by teaching life-saving skills. When in the vehicles, young drivers practice evasive lane change maneuvers, ABS and non-ABS braking exercises, panic braking, and skid control. Some parents are still teaching their kids old school techniques of pumping the brakes to stop, so these classes combat that bad advice and while the kids wait for their turn, they also learn what to do if they’re pulled over by the police, basic car care, how to optimally adjust their seats and mirrors, and other things older drivers take for granted.
Driver’s Edge offers events around the country, but mostly in the Las Vegas and Reno areas, the Bay Area, CA, Detroit, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, were on their 2014-2015 schedule. Registration was easy, but tends to fill up quickly since it’s a free event (donations are always accepted since it’s a nonprofit organization). Parents are invited and encouraged to attend to watch their child drive and listen to the experts give advice during the activities. Because Driver’s Edge is only a 4-hour program and doesn’t replace a good driving school, DE recommends these schools specifically if they’re available in your area. If not, do some research and find the best school for your new driver; it could save their life and the lives of those around them.
- Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving (Chandler, AZ)
- Mid-Ohio School (Lexington, OH)
- Simraceway Performance Driving Center (Sonoma, CA)
- Skip Barber Racing School (various locations)
Pre- and post-tests are given to assess both parents’ and kids’ knowledge and driving comfort levels and they say we’ll receive follow-up questionnaires after one and two years to see if the skills learned have needed to be used. God I hope not.
I know my son is better equipped as a driver now that he knows he can control the car in a panic situation. It doesn’t rain much here in Las Vegas, so I can hardly wait for the next time that it does so we can go out to an empty parking lot to practice our panic stops (unlike that first time in the parking lot where I practiced looking cool as I tried not to yell as he nearly ran over the curb). My son was hesitant to attend the class—probably due to teenage inertia more than anything—but he was so glad that he did afterwards. And I know he was glad to learn from bonafide experts rather than these “experts”: (language warning 😉 )