Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15 to 18 year olds in the United States, with 2082 teen drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2016. Ford Driving Skills for Life, a free program for teen drivers – taking place in Arizona on November 8, 9, 10 , 11, and 12 – is a valuable tool to address common driving scenarios, reinforce positive behaviors, give teens practical advice and experience behind the wheel, and hopefully make progress in changing that statistic.
Getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage of sorts. For a new driver, it’s freedom. For the parent of said driver, it’s at once liberating and terrifying. Back in the day, I took driver’s ed at my high school, after the regular school day, from a gray-haired retired teacher who would take us out in a car with a passenger-side brake (just in case) and a “Student Driver” sticker splashed across the rear bumper as a warning for the rest of the driving public. A few lessons on, we’d schedule an appointment at the DMV, take a written test, and perform these same basic driving tasks with an official evaluator.
Here we are, 25-plus years later, and I find myself with a 16 year old, and a whole new set of circumstances. In Arizona, potential drivers who are younger than 18 are required to pass an MVD-approved driver-education program. OR they can have a parent or guardian certify that the teen has completed 30 hours behind the wheel, including 10 at night. No matter if said hours were completed under the tutelage of a road-raging, blinker-eschewing, radio-blaring, bad-driving-habit-sharing, parent with little knowledge of either teaching or driving.
Ford Driving Skills for Life takes young drivers through several driving scenarios, in a controlled environment, including emergency braking, distracted driving, impaired driving, hazard recognition, and some time learning about vehicle control behind the wheel of a Mustang with a professional driver.
The level of experience for students in our session ranged from beginner (at this point, my daughter had had her learner’s permit for an entire 10 days) to teens who had their licenses for a year or more – some of whom were repeat students in the program. One dad confided that he had signed his son up for the class after the teen was involved in a one-car accident a few months prior, and was now feeling a little nervous behind the wheel (as were his parents). The course itself builds confidence by putting young drivers in emergency scenarios with the comfort of a professional instructor talking them through it from the passenger seat.
From my daughter’s point of view, “This course is beneficial since it helps you understand what it’s like to be in high stress situations on the road and how to react. It also lets you get a feel for what slamming on the brakes feels like, and how long it actually takes you to stop.”
Partially due to increases in driver training and improvements in vehicle safety, there has been a 46 percent decline in teen driver fatalities between 2007 and 2016. But teens are still significantly overrepresented in fatal crashes. Programs like this one help mitigate the risk for teen drivers on the road. Ford Teen Driving Skills for Life will be in Arizona November 8-12 at the Phoenix Fire Training Facility. Check the website to register, for upcoming courses outside of Arizona, and for resources on safe driving.