Remember the excitement and anxiety that came with your sixteenth birthday? For most of us, that birthday meant receiving our driver’s license—a milestone for which there was no equal (at least in our teenage minds).
Yet few of us realized the responsibility that comes with driving several tons of metal capable of causing fatal injury. Driver’s ed may have done a good job teaching the ins and outs of how to drive a car legally and carefully but didn’t always properly impart the serious ramifications of a car accident—the injuries sustained, lives lost, property damaged, and more.
Today’s teenagers are faring no better (perhaps even worse, as teenagers in this day and age often think nothing of texting behind the wheel). A recent New York Times article discusses the concerning fact that driver’s ed still isn’t preparing teens to take driving seriously.
The author of the article quoted one teen—overheard in a Des Plaines, Illinois driver’s ed classroom “straight from the 1970s”—as sarcastically saying, “Don’t hit that old lady crossing the street!”
According to the article, “safety experts worry that many schools are ill-equipped to teach teenagers the realities of the modern road.”
Decades-old driving simulators—still used because of budget constraints in many schools—do not prepare teens for modern driving. Technology has changed so much in recent years that “students would laugh [at the old simulators] and easily lose interest,” according to driver education teacher Jodi Franzen.
It’s not just that teenagers can sometimes be careless—it’s that they are also clueless, says David Fisher, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Their inexperience makes them more dangerous than almost any other driver on the road—which is why it is all the more important to educate them about safe driving habits.
Fortunately, kids at several of Des Plaines’s schools will be learning on upgraded, interactive driving simulators that can more clearly show what happens in a texting and driving crash. But not all of the city’s schools are getting these simulators—leaving the kids at other schools unprepared when they get behind the wheel.
Until we can improve driver’s ed for all kids—across all school districts in all states—the class will continue failing to teach our kids the meaning of safe driving.
We encourage parents to supplement their kids’ driver’s ed classes with their own instruction. Foster safe driving habits by rewarding the right behavior and setting a good example when behind the wheel.