The Role of Education in the Prevention of Traffic Crashes

Defensive Driving Skills Simulator

Defensive Driving Skills Simulator

I presented at the Roads & Streets Conference sponsored by The University of Arizona Civil Engineering Department, The Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. This is a conference primarily focused on engineering, however, this year they added a “safety” track. My topic was “the Role of Education in the Prevention of Traffic Crashes.” I was pleasantly surprised that the presentation was well received.

The focus of my presentation was what it really takes to prepare a novice driver for the responsibility of driving. Teaching a student to pass the MVD test is easy, truly preparing them to be a safe and responsible driver is NOT. There are many factors that need to be considered, one of which is a student’s beliefs and attitude about driving. If they have the attitude of: “this is no big deal” which often mirrors the beliefs and attitudes of their parents then getting through to them can be challenging. The truth of the matter is that driving is one of the most dangerous activities ANY of us engage in on a daily basis. Driving is a mental process that is assisted by physical movement and there are levels of learning and levels of skills that are developed over time. This is NOT something that is accomplished in an abbreviated period of time.

The levels of learning are:
Awareness – the ability to pass a written test and articulate the rules, and understanding how a vehicle works
Knowledge – knowing when and how the rules apply and recognizing that we as human beings and ANY vehicle we drive have definite limitations
Skill – specific skills needed to accomplish the task such as hand and foot control, steering, lane management, making right and left turns, etc.
Mastery – the ability to apply knowledge and skill to any given circumstance.
Unfortunately, there are far too many novice drivers on our roadways with a cursory level of awareness and knowledge, minimal skills and certainly no mastery. In order to develop the necessary skills and mastery it requires:
Excellent instruction
Practice and repetition
There are also levels of driving skill that range from the basics of pedal and steering control, turns, lane position to a second level of skills that include lane management (choice, position and spacing), parking and reversing, navigating intersections and freeway driving. Developing a level of mastery requires observation and planning, judgement and decision making, hazard recognition and the ability to manage space and speed no matter what circumstances the driver finds themself in.

If you truly want your teenager to develop the necessary skills it requires responsibility and dedication from both the teenager and their parents or guardians. Driving needs to become a priority, not something that is fit in when you have a little time. If you simply want them to pass the test and get their license, that can be cheap and quick, but the consequences can be costly if not deadly.

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Driving While Intexticated – Infographic


This is a great texting and driving InfoGraphic to share with teens and experienced drivers. We love how they referred to this epidemic as “Driving While Intexticated“.   Thanks to OnlineSchools.com for putting this information together.


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Overwhelmed and Undertrained

Road&TrackDrivingMBA has been featured in two National publications because of our training model. The title of this “Overwhelmed and Undertrained” is the title of the article featured in Road & Track. We have been in business for 10 years and it continues to shock and amaze me at the poor choices parents make when it comes to preparing their teenagers for the responsibility of driving. Convenience tends to trump all other considerations. What I can tell you after being in this business for 10 years is that this is not an easy process and it certainly isn’t convenient. It takes responsibility and dedication on the part of the student and the parent(s). Below is a quote from the Road & Track article that refers to the devastating trend of teenage driving fatalities and injuries:

“If this were a disease, we’d declare it an epidemic. If kids were being killed by a foreign government, we’d go to war. But since these deaths happen one at a time, nine or so Donovan Tessmers every day, no one seems to care enough to do anything. Not the government, not the insurance companies, not even the parents.

Upper-middle-class American parents spend almost $9000 annually on enrichment activities for their children. But $100-per-hour cello lessons won’t make most kids Yo-Yo Ma. The soccer career of the average boy or girl in a $1500-a-season travel league ends with high school. Most teenagers will drive for the rest of their lives.

Yet parents tend to cheap out when it comes to teaching driving to kids. The price of a typical driving course is $300.”

I implore parents to consider what it is like to be on the roadways as an experienced driver. Now put a young, inexperienced driver in that position without being properly prepared and it is no wonder the statistics are as out of control as they are. Car crashes are the #1 killer of teenagers. Think about this as you prepare your child for this responsibility.

Click on the links below to read the full articles:

July 2013 Road & Track Article

July 2010 Car & Driver Article

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What Would You Do If You Suddenly Encountered a Wrong-Way Driver?

At DrivingMBA, we expose our students to just that possibility, coach them on what to look out for, and what to do if it ever occurs. All of this is done safely on a sophisticated driving simulator.

We conduct demonstrations on the simulator as part of our parent class, and based on what we’ve seen, we can with reasonable certainty predict what an experienced driver would most likely do:

  • The initial reaction is almost universally to apply the brakes
  • The next move may be to turn the steering wheel to move out of the way, and is almost always initiated too late to be effective

Why is that so? The way most people process information is via pattern recognition. That is how we learn to read, or navigate streets with directional signs. We associate a response with a set of data. If we are heading toward something that we don’t want to hit, we try and stop as the first reaction.

When the object that we are approaching is moving toward us, we have a significantly reduced timeframe to work within. Furthermore, coming to a stop is most likely to be counter to your continued well-being.  That is why it is critical to have been exposed to the pattern beforehand, so that the recognition can occur without delay, and the appropriate response can be triggered, which is to get out of the way.

We also know through results that what we do works. The same scenario, in which most experienced drivers will crash when we use it as a demonstration, is incorporated into our curriculum. Most students will successfully avoid the collision, after having been exposed to a similar circumstance earlier in the training.

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Helping Your New Teen Driver Be Safe on the Road

Parallel ParkingAccording to the National Safety Council, the first 12 months after teenagers receive their driver’s licenses can be the most dangerous period of their young lives. During this period, a teen is three times more likely to be in a collision than someone 20 years or older. Fortunately, there are things you as a parent can do with and for your teen to help him become a safe driver.

Spend Hours Practicing

Not surprisingly, the more practice a teen can get with a parent in the vehicle, the better. According to USA Today, parents should try to spend at least 50 hours driving with their children before allowing them to hit the road solo. USA Today also councils parents to focus on important driving skills such as looking for possible hazards, rather than concentrating on less important driving behaviors like learning how to parallel park.

Educate Your Teen

The more your teen understands about the rules of the road the better. For example, does your teen driver know when it’s OK to pass a bus if it has its stop sign out and red flashing lights on? Or who has the right of way at a four-way stop when vehicles arrive simultaneously? If not, have him take some free interactive practice driving tests. According to Scholastic, interactive activities can keep your student more engaged than passive learning tools, such as a written DMV handbook.

Have Your Teen Sign a Contract

Driving is a privilege and not a right, so your child should be given clear directives as to what he can and cannot do while on the road. Start your contract by listing the things you won’t tolerate, such as drinking or texting while driving. Then add the rules that are important in your household. These may include keeping the car clean, maintaining a certain GPA or earning enough money to pay for gas. Once your contract is ready, go over it with your child and have him sign it. If you would prefer, you can use a contract provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drive by Example

Do you swear at other drivers and make aggressive moves while driving? Or worse, do you text or check your Facebook? Your teens are always watching you and if they witness you using poor judgment while driving, they’re more than likely to follow suit. Unfortunately, 77 percent of teens in a recent AT&T survey claimed that they see adults text and drive all the time.

There Are Apps for That

A number of apps today can help keep your child safer on the road. For example, when installed on your child’s phone, the Canary app can send you a notification if your teen is speeding or using the phone while driving. With Canary, you can also set up designated areas that are off limits to your teen, and if your driver should wander into those areas, this app will send you an alert. Canary is available for both the iPhone and Android platforms.

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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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