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Driving: It's never too early to learn

By: Gary Magwood

Date: Saturday, 27. January 2007

Gary Magwood is a driving educator and freelance writer.

In Canada we kill over three thousand folks each year in car crashes. That's more than die from drugs or crime. Now add a staggering quarter of a million non-fatal injuries, many of which are more serious than in years gone by because more folks are surviving crashes due to "safer cars and highways." The resulting life-long disabilities are a huge burden on all of us, not to mention the financial cost.

There are many ways to battle this problem, but let's start with one approach: the thorny issue of better, more comprehensive driver education.

This is a topic that has been researched to death and there are many studies that show it doesn't 'work worth a pinch.' This is hard to understand. How can it be that everything we do in our lives centers around education of one sort or another and yet, in this one task-driving-we're told that education is ineffective? At the same time that we are exhorted to stay in school, get a degree, upgrade our skills, attend seminars and workshops and get re-trained for the changes the workplace, we're also being told that education doesn't work in changing driver behavior.

My questions in this regard are: who's teaching, what's being taught, how is it being taught, when should we start teaching and when should the process end? Not simple questions, but let me propose an answer.

Start driver training start in nursery school. If you think that's too early then consider the fact that children are being exposed to the driving process from infancy. They are strapped into their safety seats where they watch and learn. And ask yourself what strange view of the driving task will result from being strapped into a child safety seat facing the rear and only seeing the world traveling backwards at high speed?

Learning begins at home-whether we intend it or not

J. Peter Rothe in his fascinating book, Rethinking Young Drivers, states, "In a very real way, the parents are teaching their children to drive long before any formal instruction begins...they learn a whole host of attitudes, rationalizations and motives." If we roll through stop signs, tailgate, curse other drivers, weave from lane to lane or casually drape a limp wrist across the steering wheel, then, guess what? So will our children do when they start to drive.

There is no question that driver education starts earlier than when we decide to start "teaching" at sixteen or so. So why not introduce the process at the primary levels?

Social skills, sex education, gross and fine motor skills and alcohol and drug awareness are all part of the present curriculum; but only as a supplement to what is already taught at home. Driving that is learned in the home environment is very powerful whether it is well or poorly taught. Rothe's data suggests that poor teaching "prevails, and to an alarming extent."

Young people are just as intelligent as adults, although perhaps not as educated or as experienced; traits which come, in most cases, with age. Driving is probably one those skills that comes naturally to some and not to others; no different than the ability to play a musical instrument or particular sport or to master algebra. With patient, credible instruction we can learn difficult and complex tasks.

Now, this begs the question, Yeah, but who's going to teach driving in primary schools? Let me propose two sources of expertise: the teachers themselves who, in today's system continuously upgrade their own education, and the thousands of licensed racing and rally drivers across Canada.

I hear raised eyebrows! Why?

If our children want to improve their hockey or soccer skills, we would be delighted to avail ourselves of the coaching (teaching) services of a professional player. No difference then for competition drivers who would make themselves available to public school systems to reinforce the lessons taught by school teachers. They would lend a level of credibility to the information. These drivers are, in fact, experts in the art of vehicle handling and dynamics. Video presentations, chalk talks, parking lot demonstrations, slide shows and the like could help instill an attitude that driving is more than just a right of teenage passage; it is a learned skill and and ongoing life-time learning process.

As these children grow up they will be far more competent and skilled drivers. By the time they get to high school and driving age they will have established a good foundation on which to build the practical, in-car procedures necessary for everyday driving.

The process outlined above would be far more effective than the low-technique, attitude-based, fear-oriented training commonly used up to now. "Body bag" movies or videos do not impart driving skills or instincts-they only discourage eating lunch before driver's ed classes!

When these trained and experienced drivers raise their own families the program would start to reap real benefits. That's how education works.

A concerted effort to reduce car crashes and collisions is not a simple process; neither is driving a car. But by adopting thorough, credible driver education and training at an early age, all the simplistic solutions will become part of the overall curriculum. Then they'll work.

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All Comments (3)

Showing 1 - 3 comments

Deborah Mallek,

My sister-in-law took your article literally and took my 13 year old, 70 lb. stepson driving. She is not a driving instructor, and he is barely large enough to sit safely in the front seat of a vehicle.
Is this the impact you intended by your article, or did you mean to open an intelligent debate toward meaninful, legal change?

John Nicholson,

For people who are looking for Teen Driver Education Course for taking Driver License Online or DMV learners permit, here is a valuable resource.
Driver Education Course

Rosa Haywood,

Learning how to drive is an experience and a big responsibility. In other words if there's a reason to drive; I learned that you have to care about your life and others around you while driving on the road.

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