Inconsistencies in Sentencing is a Disservice to Many Victims

GavelA twenty-three year old Phoenix woman was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for running a red light and causing a fatal crash that killed a 50 year old man at a bus stop. Speed, alcohol or drugs were not a factor. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated assault.

Before you begin applauding the legal system for getting it right for a change, you should know the only reason for the stiff sentence is because she left the scene of the crash, later turning herself in. If she had stayed at the crash scene, her penalty would most likely have been a modest monetary fine, a suspended driver’s license and maybe some community service – no jail time.

Leaving the scene of a fatal crash is obviously against the law and should carry an additional penalty, however, in my opinion, the more serious offense of running a red light and killing an innocent man should carry a hefty penalty as well.

What the courts are saying is the irresponsible behavior of causing a red light running crash that kills someone is less egregious than being scared and leaving the scene after the crash. Don’t get me wrong, not remaining at the crash site is cowardly even if you are scared, but the penalty imposed should be greater for the act that actually resulted in taking a person’s life.

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Parents as Role Models

Parent TextingIf you’ve been in our Parent Class you know how important it is for parents to model the behavior they expect from their teenagers when driving. Unfortunately, too many parents subscribe to the “do as I say, not as I do” rule of parenting, particularly when it comes to driving, and I am here to tell you it doesn’t work.

9 times out of 10 when I ask parents what are their concerns or worries when they think about their teenagers being out on the roadways, their responses include distractions and more specifically cell phones. Everyone is worried about the teenagers that are texting and driving, but when I am in a class with my students and I ask them how many of them have parents that are still talking and/or texting on cell phones, many of their hands go up. If you have a child that is learning how to drive, I can’t stress enough how important it is that the adults in their lives, particularly their parents, provide good role models. Look at the photo included with this article. How safe is this mom’s behavior for that child in the backseat? What message are we giving to our very young children when we engage in these behaviors?

In the January newsletter I wrote an article regarding the standards that are being considered in the state of Arizona. The standards the state is considering adopting are based on the ADTSEA (American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association). These standards, similar to those developed by other organizations such as NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Association), all include a parental component. The research shows just how important the parental role is in the process of preparing young drivers. Too often, however, parents don’t have the time, or expect that because their student is in training, they don’t have to participate in the process. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Any skill that we as human beings develop, requires practice and driving is no different. Training is important in the development of proper techniques but it cannot alleviate the need to do the practice required. Why is it we don’t question it when coaches require their athletes to be at practice 2 hours a day 7 days a week, sometimes more because they have to be ready for the game, but when it comes to practice driving, there is no time. When you decide to allow your teenager to begin the process of learning how to drive, you have to make it a priority in the scheme of things. This can’t be the one thing that falls off the table because they, or you, are just too busy. Will they be able to pass a test that requires them to handle a vehicle – probably, but will they be able to make good decisions and judgements when it matters – probably not. Is that really what you want for your child?

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Small Fish in a Big Ocean

Big FishRed Means Stop received its 501c3 status from the federal government in 1999, and by all accounts we are a small fish in a very big ocean of non-profit organizations. When John Philippi, Les Marquis and I conceived the idea of creating a program to educate drivers about the dangers of red light running, we had no idea how long it would last or if it would survive at all.

Now, fifteen years later, we continue to offer information on a variety of traffic safety issues, including the issue that brought us together in the first place, running red lights. Our children, Krystal, Sam and Jennifer, were our inspiration to effect change in driver behavior. In 1999, there were few if any grassroots organizations like ours talking about what happens to families when careless drivers cause devastating crashes. Today, there are many groups around the country taking up the cause, some led by victims just like us.

Red Means Stop continues to swim up-stream against a strong current. The small fish needs your help financially to deliver its safety message to all drivers, especially new drivers. Sadly, until you are personally affected by a motor vehicle tragedy, you aren’t likely to give this problem a second thought.


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Standards in Driver Training

StandardsDrivingMBA has been participating in an effort with ADOT/MVD to adopt standards for driver training in this state. Driver training is a regulated industry in most states and often with that regulation come standards. However, up to now, the standards for Arizona have been “non-existent” and auditing was centered around forms and reporting, not on what the schools were or were not teaching. As of October 2012 all private schools were no longer allowed to provide the written or skills test because there was corruption in the system. This effort may afford those schools who choose to comply with the new standards and new rules being developed the opportunity to test again. All of these changes are scheduled to go into effect in July 2014.

The norm for standards in most states is 30 hours of classroom, a minimum of 10 hours of on-road instruction and 100 hours of logged practice. This would be a significant undertaking for most schools as the model is usually 8 hours or less of classroom instruction and 6 hours of on-road instruction. DrivingMBA currently offers a package that does closely align with national standards that are being used as a model for Arizona. High schools that still offer driver’s ed have standards that are a subset of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA) standards. The standards the state is considering for private schools are far more robust than those adopted by the Department of Education in Arizona.

No matter what the outcome of this effort, driver training in Arizona and around the country needs to be better than it is. Young people are being licensed without adequate preparation for the realities of our roadways. As parents, make sure you do your research about this topic. Remember your child’s life is at stake.

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Keeping our Head in the Game While Driving

as featured in MASK Magazine, Hope Edition, Winter 2013

devilEmotions are a natural part of who we are as human beings. Sometimes our emotions are positive and upbeat and other times they are negative and make us feel depressed, sad or angry and those emotions affect our attitude or state of mind. Often we can let our emotions get the best of us and getting a handle on those emotions can be difficult. Driving when our emotions are running high can be a dangerous practice, particularly for a novice driver. A teenager’s brain is still developing and they are vulnerable to their emotions and emotions of others. Avoiding getting behind the wheel when our emotions are running high and have control of us is the right choice to make for our own safety and the safety of others.

When we think of “distracted driving” we normally think about cell phones, but in reality distracted driving is more than just talking or texting on your cell phone. There are three different types of distractions that all drivers experience. Visual, manual and cognitive distractions. An easier way to remember these is to think eyes, hands, head. Many times it is a combination of these types of distractions that occur. Driving while extremely emotional is a form of distracted driving. A visual distraction takes a driver’s eyes away from the road to view something outside or inside of our vehicle. A manual distraction requires a driver to remove one or both hands from the steering wheel. Cognitive distractions are the most difficult to define as well as to eliminate. To be cognitive, in the context of driving, means to be fully aware of the vehicle, its speed and other operational characteristics as well as the ever-changing roadway environment. When we are splitting our attention between driving and a conversation on the phone with someone else, possibly fueling our emotion, that is a cognitive distraction and takes our full attention away from the road. Even having a “conversation in our head” about whatever is going on in our life can be a significant distraction and can cause us to miss important information such as a stopped vehicle or a red light. It may also cause us to overreact to other drivers and we may engage in risky behaviors such as cutting someone off or tailgating. This is why cognitive distractions or “keeping our head in the game” and fully focused on driving can be very difficult.

How can we avoid driving when we are emotional? The first step is to be aware of our emotional make up. Ask yourself, am I someone who is easily excited either positively or negatively? Knowing this helps us to identify our emotional state quickly and make choices about how to handle a situation, particularly if driving is involved. If you need to drive, perhaps you can ask someone else to drive you to where you need to go. If that isn’t an option then take a minute or two, quiet your mind, close your eyes and take a deep breath to regain composure before you even start the vehicle. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it and knowing when our emotions have control is the first step in avoiding making poor choices because of our emotional state. Driving with our head in the game is the safe and responsible decision.


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The Latest in Crash Avoidance

Autonomous Vehicles Self Driving Cars GaugeInnovations such as driver and passenger side airbags, side impact airbags, and crumple zones have helped protect drivers in the event of a crash. However, automakers are going a step further by rolling out new gadgets and technologies that help drivers steer clear of scenarios where a possible crash could occur. The following takes a look at some of these new technologies and the impact they’ll have on road safety.

Making a Difference on the Road

The importance of staying safe behind the wheel cannot be overstated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes rank as one of the leading causes of death in the United States, with more than 2.3 million adult drivers and passengers treated in emergency rooms as a result of motor vehicle crashes in 2009.

The latest in crash avoidance and crash safety technology promises to lower motor vehicle fatalities and make the roads a safer place to be. But as these new features make their way into cars, trucks and SUVs throughout the U.S., it remains to be seen how they’ll perform as the years and miles wear on. While these technologies are likely to be covered under factory warranties, having an extended warranty from Carchex offers greater peace of mind for drivers concerned about any long-term maintenance issues.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently launched a new test program to rate the performance of crash avoidance systems. They used over 74 2013-2014 vehicle models, based on a three-tier rating system of “basic,” “advanced” and “superior” to help consumers make comparisons and informed buying decisions. The latest in crash avoidance gadgets includes:

  • Lane Departure Warning Systems - Lane changes and merge crashes make up five percent of police-reported crashes and 0.5 percent of fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Lane departure warning systems such as those found in the 2014 Chevy Silverado and other General Motors vehicles use a combination of sensors and radar to alert drivers if they stray out of their lane through audio warnings and in some vehicles, seat vibration.
  • Telematics - The vast majority of today’s vehicles now offer telematics systems such as GM’s OnStar. These systems work in concert with voice-activated navigation and controls to help drivers remain focused on the road ahead. Some of the features offered via telematics include turn-by-turn navigation, hands-free calling, and third-party app services.
  • Self-Parking Systems - Backup cameras and audio warnings are giving way to self-parking, one of several automated avoidance technologies currently under development by a number of automobile industry players. Self-parking systems are aimed towards making parallel parking and parking in tight spots much easier. Ford recently unveiled its self-parking technology alongside its obstacle avoidance system in the Ford Edge Concept. According to the manufacturer, drivers can activate this system with just the push of a button or via remote control from outside of the vehicle.
  • Automatic Braking - Mazda, Subaru and Volvo are among the growing number of automakers to develop and include automatic braking systems in their mainstream offerings. This new technology is intended to help drivers come to a quick yet safe stop in situations that require panic braking, even if the driver’s reflexes are slow on the draw.

My personal belief about all of the new technology being introduced into vehicles is that some of it is good and will help keep motorists safer on our roadways, while some is more of a distraction than the auto makers would like us to believe.   I also believe that the technology should be employed as an assist to drivers not a replacement and that in many cases it is making drivers stupid.  We at DrivingMBA make our students aware of the technological advances in many new vehicles today, however, when we teach students, we teach them to “do the work themselves,” in other words, not to rely on the technology to park their vehicle or check what is behind their vehicle or check to make a safe lane change.  It is important for drivers to know how to do all of these things safely, because technology doesn’t always work and when the “screen goes blue” we need to know what to do!

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Do Not Put Your Teen Into a High Powered Vehicle

High Powered CarThe new driver simply doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know. Furthermore, what they think they know is misleading and potentially deadly when they are placed behind the wheel of a vehicle on their own as a licensed driver.

The typical training given to new drivers is the equivalent of showing someone a video that explains what to do, what to avoid, and what not to do. This is the “driver education”, or classroom portion of the training.

That may be followed by highly monitored and controlled on-road training and “practice” in applying the physical skills necessary to move a vehicle across some limited set of roadways. Great stuff, but what happens next?

The training is usually more than sufficient to allow the student to pass the government mandated tests and become licensed drivers, judged to be capable of dealing with the many unexpected occurrences that pop up on today’s roadways.

When out of the watchful (anxious/stressed-out) view of a parent, the impulse to push the limit is almost impossible to overcome. The result is driving the vehicle beyond personal and/or actual vehicle limitations. That is why DrivingMBA was established. We use the most advanced technology available to demonstrate those personal and vehicle limits before they are encountered on the road.


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Why Exposure To Personal & Vehicle Limitations is Critical

by Rich Wojtczak, Owner DrivingMBA

paul-walker-picture-5Paul Walker died in a horrendous one-vehicle collision with a couple of inanimate objects in the form of a light pole, followed by a tree. The driver of the vehicle was an accomplished race car driver, and had experience driving exotic cars such as the one they died in. According to one source, the vehicle was only traveling at 40 to 45 mph when it crashed, which is pretty unbelievable, given the severity of the crash.

Imagine, then, the newly minted driver with very limited exposure to any unusual events, encountering for the first time that vehicle heading straight toward them, on the wrong side of the road. The first (and most deadly) reaction is to slow down reality by vigorously applying the brake. The likely result: a head-on collision.

No amount of training and drilling on proper scanning, lane position, or space cushion, can ever prepare you for what you really need to do in that case: use the steering wheel effectively to get out of harm’s way.

There are very few ways to experience that situation and learn from it, and the most cost effective is on a high fidelity simulator that allows you to have the experience, perhaps suffer the consequences of an incorrect response, and then have the opportunity to try again.

The DrivingMBA Defensive Driving program was developed specifically to address those types of very rare, but very deadly, occurrences. We stress personal and vehicle limitations by demonstrating those limits in a safe environment that allows for do-overs.

It is not a game, but a real teaching tool. Using replay capabilities, the instructor, on a one-on-one basis, can point out what happened, and what could have been done to avoid the problem. You just can’t do that any other way that I know of, and that is why airline pilots are required to go through simulation courses on a regular basis.



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Even the Best Trained Can Fail

by Rich Wojtczak, Owner & CEO of DrivingMBA

PWalkerCrashThe Paul Walker story about his untimely death has been in the forefront for the past several days, with new information coming out daily.

What is clear is that the driver of the vehicle was no novice driver, and the vehicle itself was no ordinary passenger vehicle. The driver was an accomplished racing enthusiast, with a lot of time on a track, as was Paul. The vehicle was a limited edition Porsche that sold originally for $450,000, and had about 650 horsepower in a package that made it, by some accounts, “scary”.

The cause of the collision is going to be a source of conjecture for a while before the crash forensic is completed and the reports filed. One report is:

The Porsche that actor Paul Walker was riding in when he died on Saturday was traveling at approximately 40 to 45 mph when it came to a bend in the road where the speed limit drops to about 15 mph, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told NBC News on Monday. It was in that vicinity where the driver, Roger Rodas, apparently lost control of the vehicle, ending in the fiery solo accident, the source said.

Walker, 40, and Rodas, 38, were killed at the scene, police said. Their autopsies were put on hold Monday, as the Los Angeles Medical Examiner’s Office waits for dental X-rays for each man to aid in making the official identifications, said Craig Harvey, chief of the coroner’s operations bureau.

Whatever the final determination is, it is still a tragedy, and from it we can glean some lessons that apply to everyone that gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, especially if it’s not one you’ve driven often:

• Approach the vehicle capabilities with caution

• Don’t assume you know the vehicle limitations

• Do assume that the vehicle might have some very different handling characteristics than those you are accustomed to

• Don’t think you are experienced enough to handle anything you drive

• Do respect the incredible power to wreak havoc

• Don’t think it can’t happen to you


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A Reflection on 10 Years

Rich & Maria 10 Yrs. Ago

Rich & Maria
10 Yrs. Ago

Today, November 23rd marks the 10 year anniversary of the Grand Opening of our Scottsdale location. It was a day of excitement and great anticipation for Rich and I. We received well wishes from good friends and new acquaintances and embarked on a journey that we could never have anticipated.

We started DrivingMBA in response to the horrific number of teenage car crash deaths that were taking place in our own community. The Scottsdale Unified school district was hit particularly hard in 2002 and 2003 and by the time the idea germinated and we opened our doors in November 2003, nine students had lost their lives in Scottsdale Unified alone. We didn’t know any of the victims at that time, but over time we have come to know and care very deeply for those that have lost loved ones. One in particular comes to mind, Lisa Johnson, the daughter of Jeanne Fletcher. She died in a car crash in January 2003. It was that crash that accelerated our belief that something different needed to be done. I didn’t know Lisa, nor her mother at the time of Lisa’s death, but I met, and have come to consider Jeanne a very dear friend.

When we opened the doors in 2003 we only offered training on the simulators as we saw ourselves as a complement to traditional driver training done in classrooms and in-vehicle. We learned, however, very quickly, that if parents couldn’t get the “whole package” through us, it was going to be an uphill battle. Beginning in early 2004 and through 2007 we partnered with two different driving schools and learned a great deal about the industry. Suffice it to say, it was an eye-opening experience. By November 2007, due to a whole host of circumstances DrivingMBA became a full service driver training facility, meaning we offered permit classes, simulation labs and on-road instruction. That was the birth of the services we provide today.


Laura & Charlie

This journey has been a roller coaster ride of learning, experience and most definitely emotion. We had many moments when we asked ourselves, do we throw in the towel or do we move forward, as these past 10 years have not been easy. Every time we thought we weren’t going to make it, someone or something happened that kept us moving forward. First and foremost, our very dear friends, Charlie and Laura Sobczak made a huge sacrifice and sold their dream home to invest in DrivingMBA. We are forever grateful to them as they are our partners, but more importantly our dearest friends.

Kathy Ryan

Kathy Ryan

We have had many people come and go over the years who have either given us a hand or provided valuable insight and lessons. Some have been an inspiration and others a disappointment, but all along the way we continued to learn. We have been and continue to be blessed with wonderful employees, either instructors or administrators that have made DrivingMBA what it is today, a school dedicated to the development of safe and responsible drivers. I highlighted one such individual in our October Newsletter, Art Eckstat. In this reflection I would like to acknowledge another, Kathleen Ryan, who has been with us from the beginning. Kathleen started with us as an instructor in the Beginner simulation lab and her invaluable insight and knowledge has provided the framework for the curriculum in both the Beginner and On-Road programs. Kathy is particularly gifted with a deep understanding of special needs and she is the reason we have been able to work with students with Aspergers and other challenges. We are forever grateful that Kathy came into our lives and continues to grace us with her knowledge and presence.

I have, over the years, been thinking about writing a book but the inspiration for the direction isn’t quite there yet. This year in particular, I have found myself very reflective and emotional about where we are and where we still want to be. We started this business with a deep desire to make a difference. We know we have made a difference in many of our student’s lives. We know this because of the many stories we have heard over the years from parents and students. It still is our dream to expand and change the way we prepare novice drivers for the road not only here in Arizona, but in the United States. Unfortunately, this business requires a huge capital investment and we haven’t found the right people yet, but we haven’t given up either.

Thank you to everyone that has supported and believed in DrivingMBA. If not for all of you, friends, parents, students, colleagues, we would not have survived.

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