April 18, 2024

Shortcuts: Helping Your Teenager Become a Safe Driver

I have the usual maternal feelings: wasn’t he just in a stroller? Is he really ready to maneuver a 4,000-pound machine? Can he pick up his brother from baseball practices?

But I also realize that I have no idea how to choose a driving school or what to look for. When I was learning to drive, drivers’ education was offered through my high school. Three students would be squashed in the back seat while one would be up front with the instructor.

I don’t remember much except being nervous. My father supplemented the lessons on our 1965 Dodge Dart station wagon (yes, it was old even then). And, as all California teenagers did at the time, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles on my 16th birthday and took my driver’s test. I passed on the first try.

But now, many schools don’t offer drivers’ education, so parents must seek private courses. Most friends I know have been satisfied, but not everyone.

My neighbor Kim, for example, told me she was somewhat unimpressed with her high school daughter’s instruction so far.

“They drive around with the radio on and I hear more about the music they listen to than any constructive criticism,” she said.

Then there’s Nancy Freedman, whom I found online. She vividly recalled taking lessons in Brooklyn quite a few years ago.

“We were at a pier in Brooklyn practicing and I guess I wasn’t hitting the brake squarely and the instructor said, ‘Every time you don’t put your foot squarely on the brake, you will have to kiss me,’ ” Ms. Freedman said.

“I was 17 and was savvy enough and made sure my foot was square. I called the school and he got fired.”

Now, I don’t think most schools have inappropriate drivers. The bigger problem may be whether the students are getting the information and instruction they need to become safe drivers.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, accounting for more than one in three deaths for 15- to 19-year-olds. Per mile driven, drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times as likely as adults to crash.

So a good driving course isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. A place to find out more, I figured, was the AAA, which has a helpful brochure, “Choosing a Driving School: A Guide for Parents of Beginning Drivers.”

The organization’s suggestions include these:

¶Ask friends about the schools they used and find out what they liked or didn’t like. But don’t leave it at that. Call several schools to compare programs and pricing.

¶Be sure to find out about additional costs on top of the price of lessons, like fees for missed lessons and cancellations.

¶Ask how many fully licensed instructors work at the school. A good ratio is 30 students to five instructors, which allows enough time for students to complete the training in about 12 weeks.

¶Visit the school to see how the classrooms look and the appearance of the cars. Kerry Donnelly, assistant manager of AAA Driver Training, a drivers’ education school run out of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, told me, “The building doesn’t have to be beautiful, but the vehicles should look good.” One school in the area, she said, used cars more than 10 years old and with more than 200,000 miles.

¶Check if the school has an in-car curriculum. The instructor shouldn’t just get in the automobile and wing it but have a lesson plan to follow with each student.

¶Find out if the behind-the-wheel sessions and classroom lessons correspond to reinforce and demonstrate practical usage.

A typical driving school package, which ranges from $300 to $500, includes about 30 hours in the classroom and six to 10 in the car, said Sharon Fife, president of the Driving School Association of the Americas, which is composed of owners of driving schools.

The AAA suggests that beginning drivers have two lessons a week to reinforce what they’ve learned.

And check to see if the school you are considering is a member of the Better Business Bureau and whether there have been any complaints, Ms. Fife said.

E-mail: shortcuts@nytimes.com

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7cf178f2ba580c3a4d5a975a60ebb517

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