I Went To Driver’s Ed And Learned … I Have A Lot To Learn About Driving!

Driver'S Ed
Part of the fleet at Fresh Green Light--the cars are brightly decorated so other drivers on the road know to give driving students plenty of space

I also learned why I should hire someone else to teach my teen to drive and possibly, save her life.

My oldest daughter turned 16 not long ago and the pursuit began: She wanted to get her driver’s license. Since driver education classes were the victim of budget cuts in our schools, I thought, well, of course, I’ll teach her! Yeah, right. Teaching your own kid to drive can be more like inviting a monster to come live with you for a few months: few things can make everyone in your house so angry and on edge.

Driver'S Ed

Statistics show the impact of graduated driving license laws: a drastic reduction in deaths due to car crashes

Graduated Driver Licensing: Breaking it down reduces risk and saves lives

Making the whole thing more complicated, many states have adopted ‘graduated driver licensing’ laws which essentially stretch out the process over a year or more:

  • New drivers have a required permit period
  • Practice driving is required
  • Drivers under 18 have passenger restrictions
  • Drivers under 18 have curfew restrictions
  • Of course, there are handheld device restrictions.

Additionally, many states have an instruction requirement, the tests are more difficult than ever and there are serious penalties for breaking these rules. Most states have some form of graduated licensing now; you can find your state’s requirements here.

Just understanding the rules is complicated, never mind the driving.

Driver'S Ed

The signature wall at Fresh Green Light: Students get to sign the wall after completing the classroom sessions

I hate to admit it, but she was right…

My daughter lobbied to be enrolled in a local driving program called Fresh Green Light, which has locations in the New York City and Chicago suburbs. Driving schools are expensive—the most popular course at FGL is $1,000, though there are less expensive classroom only classes and more expensive packages that include more time behind the wheel. The good news is that often insurance costs to put a teen on your policy can be reduced and in some cases offset by passing a driving course.

I looked around at the other driving schools and decided to stop by the FGL office one morning. I chatted with the owner, Steve Mochel, and after seeing the classroom, the brightly painted instruction cars, the driving simulator, the kitchen where the staff bakes cookies for students each day, and after meeting a few of the teachers, I was convinced: this was the way to go.

Fresh Green Light

Kids have the option of trying out this simulator and showing us how good they are at texting while driving

My First Shock: Attending the Driver’s Ed Parent Class

Of the 15 classes that Fresh Green Light requires students to attend, one is for teens and their parents. I went with my daughter, and it was like my first day of school as a senior about to graduate: I sauntered in and sat at the back of the room, confident that the class would just confirm all I know about driving.

Then Steve, who was teaching the class that night, started to talk. After popping a few truly shocking stats, I started to take notes. LOTS of notes.

I was shocked by these facts:

  • Car crashes are the #1 cause of death among teens
  • 6,000 teens will be killed in crashes this year and 500,000 will be injured; compare that to 5,000 killed and 38,000 injured in Iraq
  • Teens are 4 times more likely to die in a crash than adult drivers
  • Crash rates go up with each additional teen in the car and many crashes happen between 9 PM and midnight
  • The more teen passengers in the car, the higher the risk of a crash

But then, these facts made me feel much better:

  • Since graduated driver licensing laws were passed in Connecticut, deaths of teen drivers in crashes dropped by 82%
  • Graduated licensing programs have reduced crashes by 30%
  • Most insurance companies offer a discount for teen drivers who have completed a driving course.

Parents: Biggest influence, and also, the worst influence?

Driver'S Ed

Experts agree: Parents are a huge influence on their kids, for good AND for bad

Just when I was feeling truly frightened, Steve said something that made me shiver:

  • 80% of teens cite their parents as their #1 driving influence
  • 91% have observed a parent talking on a cell phone while driving
  • 88% have observed a parent speeding while driving
  • 59% have observed a parent texting or emailing while driving
  • 47% have observed a parent not wearing a seatbelt while driving

Other than that last one, I’m guilty of all of these at one time or another. And I’m shocked at what I have been teaching my kids all these years.

So that means that without a driving class that will arm her with good information and help her to develop good habits, my daughter would likely to take all my bad habits and no real knowledge or skills out on the road. No wonder our teen driving statistics are so dire.

Driver'S Ed

Keeping kids attention on the road and not on their phone is a huge focus of the Fresh Green Light program. Credit: Ken Steeves via Twitter

Good Parents Are a Good Influence

But of course, the reality is that we love our kids, we set parameters for them and are actually a good influence. State Farm has found that parents who set rules and monitor driving behavior can lower their kids risk by half. These teens are:

  • Twice as likely to wear a seatbelt
  • 70% less likely to drink and drive
  • Half as likely to speed
  • 30% less likely to use a cell phone while driving
  • Significantly less likely to drive with multiple passengers
  • These facts, paired with the confidence that my daughter would take 15 classes (30 hours total) and 8 driving sessions flooded me with relief: learning to drive was not going to be as scary as I thought.
Driver'S Ed

Students in the Greenwich, Connecticut school have to pass this test first: Olive and Tank guard the door (and maybe spend more time cleaning up crumbs from the fresh baked cookies than guarding)

Our Teens are Still Kids in Many Ways

It turns out, the graduated licensing system actually works with a teen’s natural brain and maturity development to ease them into good driving behaviors. Consider this:

  • A human’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25
  • Teen drivers are less risk-focused because of immaturity, thrill-seeking, peer pressure and believing “it wouldn’t happen” to them
  • Distractions are a huge issue, including music, texting, and other passengers
  • 77% of teens admit they feel unsafe when in the car with another teen
  • Only 23% of teens feel that most teen drivers are good drivers
  • 78% asked another driver to stop when behaving dangerously behind the wheel
  • 84% who asked got the driver to stop

Distracted driving is a huge issue for teen drivers—which makes sense; it’s a problem for experienced drivers, too. Fresh Green Light not only teaches the dangers but has a simulator that teens can train on to see just how dangerous it is. The simulator and driving program was featured not long ago in this ABC News Story about teens and distracted driving: 

Once I was over the shock of the statistics and risks, it was time for my daughter to get to work learning to drive. Driving has changed and it’s harder than ever. I’m so glad she has a good teacher.

This is the first in a series of teaching teens to drive. Next up: My daughter’s experience and why she also agrees: it’s better to take a class than have your mom teach you

Disclosure: Classes and driving lessons at Fresh Green Light were provided complimentary for this story; all opinions and thoughts expressed here are my own.

Think You Can Teach Your Teen To Drive? Think Again: Laws Are Complex, The Rules Have Changed And Crash Stats Are Terrifying. Here'S What You Need To Know

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss