When New Teen Drivers Have Friends in Their Cars

img_drive-by-rulesAsk a teenager what it means to get a license and their response is often “freedom.”  If you think about it, driving is the last life skill that we impart to our children before they really do begin to experience young adulthood and freedom.  They are no longer dependent on their parents to get them where they need or want to be.  That freedom also includes the ability to “hang out” and that often means they are out driving with friends in their cars.   Unfortunately, passengers are one of the major contributing factors to teen car crashes and it is likely because of the peer pressure to potentially engage in unsafe behavior.   Studies indicate that when you add one teenage passenger to a novice driver’s car, those teen drivers are 50% more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash, and with every additional teen passenger the risk increases.   It is why DrivingMBA highly recommends to students and their parents that they should not have passengers in their vehicle for at least one year after licensure.   We realize that that is a difficult expectation, however, that year provides them that much more opportunity to stay focused on driving and to continue to develop their driving skills.

The teenage years are some of the most difficult and dangerous times in our children’s lives.  It seems like they have much more to deal with than we did when we were growing up and the pressure to “fit in” is ever increasing.    Studies also indicate that the region of the brain that inhibits risky behavior and controls multi-tasking ability, judgment and decision making, is not fully formed until age 25 and beyond.   Young people consistently take greater risks when their friends are watching.    When teenagers are asked if they have ever felt unsafe while driving with friends, over 65% of them admit that they have.  Most of them say that they were uncomfortable admitting it to the driver, so they often sit quietly and “hope” they’ll get to their destination.  They are afraid of being ridiculed or believe that the driver won’t listen or worse, may escalate the behavior.

Studies also indicate that teens have the lowest seat belt use of all drivers and that this rate decreases even further when there are other teens in their cars.  We ask students why they or their friends don’t use their safety belts and many of them say:  “because they forget, or they don’t think they need them, or it isn’t cool. “

Many states have Graduated Driver License laws (GDL) prohibiting passengers or limiting the number of passengers a novice driver can have in their vehicle.  The restriction varies from state to state.  Those states that have instituted strong GDL’s have seen a decrease in teen driving crashes.  While it isn’t an “easy rule” to institute,  DrivingMBA recommends that parents create their own rule about passengers for their newly licensed teens.  While it can be a battle, because the teens don’t think it is necessary, or it isn’t going to happen to them, it happens to an average of 10 teens every day.  Teenage car crashes remain the #1 reason for teen deaths and the number of young drivers injured every year are staggering.  When you consider the consequences, having to reinforce a rule like 0 passengers is nothing compared to having to deal with life changing injuries or the loss of our kids.

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Why DrivingMBA Uses Simulators

We first came up with the idea of attempting to improve the quality of novice driver training after reading story after story about young drivers losing their lives due to loss of control issues.

With backgrounds in the automotive industry, computer technology, and adult learning processes, we developed the DrivingMBA programs to significantly accelerate the acquisition of “experience” through the use of high quality driving simulators while employing adult learning techniques.

Experiential learning is generally considered vastly superior to traditional classroom methods of imparting knowledge. Learning by doing has a much higher retention rate compared to more traditional methods of reading, lecture or video presentations.

Both levels of our simulators (we use two different ones) incorporate a cab configuration that matches an actual vehicle to the extent practicable. Simply sitting at a computer screen, even when using gaming controls for steering and acceleration/braking, does not compare to actually using automotive controls with a close reproduction of the seating and dashboard controls encountered in a real vehicle.

Naysayers refer to the simulators as “video games”, but studies have shown a high degree of learning transfer takes place when the simulation device is close to the “real” thing. If this were not the case, why would the airline industry require (and spend so much on) simulator training for pilots?

Over the next several posts, we will describe the many reasons why high-fidelity simulators are actually superior learning tools when compared with traditional novice driver training methods.


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The American Attitude Toward Driving

Driving Is A Piece of Cake – Learning How To Drive Is Easy

Yes, memorizing enough of the Rules of the Road to pass the knowledge tests in existence today in the US is simple enough.

Learning how to start a modern vehicle and put it into gear is a piece of cake(unless it’s your first experience in a car with a push-button switch).

Becoming familiar enough with the accelerator, brake and steering wheel manipulation is also pretty straight-forward, although it does take some practice to make certain the correct pedal is used for the desired outcome (which is why we tell our parents to pull the vehicle out of the garage before going on a practice drive with their teen).

Adding on the ability to use the turn signals, headlights, windshield wipers and entertainment system pretty much completes the “training” necessary to allow a person to “drive” a vehicle down the road. In fact, a lot of cars have automatic headlights, so you don’t even need to know where the control is or how it works.

Why should we spend hundreds of dollars and a significant amount of time learning how to drive using a quality professional driving school?

Driving Safely & Responsibly:

  • Is a Mental Process Assisted by Physical Moves
  • Requires significant preparation to reach competency
  • Is NOT a one week(or even a one month) process


While behind the wheel of a vehicle, the driver is presented with an ever-changing set of information on road and traffic conditions that he/she must process and use to make informed decisions on how to control the vehicle.   That includes recognizing potential issues in time to respond appropriately.

It takes time and practice to develop the observation skills needed to allow proper reaction. That requires much more than 6 or less hours behind the wheel in a supervised mode, or boring classroom/online presentations of the Do’s & Don’ts of driving.


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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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