By Bill Krikac
The way we teach young people to become responsible drivers has changed over the past quarter century—sometimes for the better, and sometimes not.
When I started teaching drivers education in the 1970s, the class was taught within the school curriculum, usually to sophomores. It was often on a weekly basis for a semester, garnering the needed 30 hours of classroom instruction. The second semester involved six hours of behind-the-wheel training, usually two to three to a car. The class was like any other—students did not pay to take it.
This evolved to a summer course, often with the class part being taught in a week or two weeks. The behind-the-wheel sessions followed. The charge for these classes now ranges from $100 to $200 per student.
Now that the class has a price tag attached to it, the focus has shifted. Efficiency trumps content, and students are herded through, just to get that desired driver’s license. Many of the concepts, good driving habit routines and some risk-taking ramification examples—the lessons that make for life-long learning—have been lost along the way.
What is the best method for teaching proper driving habits?
The answer to that question changes depending on the student, the community, what’s going on in the world, and even the time of day. This means that it’s best to use a variety of methods, and hopefully one or more will make a lasting impression on each student.
Movies with scare tactics, such as scenes of tragic accidents and fatal accidents, last about a week with some students, but have lasting effects with others. They can be detrimental to some, and to others they are the most effective way the point gets across.
Rote memorization is another tool. Get in, lock door, put the key in the ignition, adjust mirrors, fasten seat belts. This routine and other memorization aids are a must for beginning drivers, so that every time the driver gets in the vehicle, they project a safe driving environment.
Simulated “drunk” goggles are a new tool used in driver’s education. When students put them on they can’t see straight, much less drive straight, which goes a long way in convincing students that inebriated drivers cannot see well enough to drive.
Visits from law enforcement have been a staple of driver’s education for years, but the message has changed. Thirty years ago when a South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper came into the classroom to about drinking and driving, he would say, “Kids, don’t do it.” Now the trooper tells the students if they are drinking and driving he’s going to come looking for them, find them, and book them.
Every individual is unique, each community is unique and there is no perfect formula to stop underage drinking and driving or to prevent teenage accidents.
On an April Friday night in 1974, my 17-year-old kid brother was killed in an automobile accident, just south of Aberdeen. To this day I miss him dearly and wish he could be brought back.
The goal of every driver’s ed instructor is to prevent such tragedies by teaching teenagers to become responsible drivers, but driver’s education is just a very short course without any guarantees. The process of creating good drivers can’t start or end with driver’s ed: All parents, educators and peers have a responsibility to work together to make sure the teenagers who drive off with their new licenses return safe and sound.
Bill Krikac, editor of the Clark County Courier, has taught driver’s education in Faulkton, Brookings, Groton, Waubay, Clear Lake and Tulare.