What ever happened to drivers education?

Far too many young people take to the roads without basic driving skills.

I was a high school teacher for 20 years, so I had a front-row seat as trends shifted in K12 education. I watched as general college prep curriculum gave way to science, technology, engineering and math—STEM—and Career Technical Education, with its focus on hands-on, certificate-based learning.

Now these are fine programs. However, because there are only so many hours in the school day and so much funding to go around, other courses, sadly, have been replaced. You’ve probably read about the disappearing classes in music, drama, art, and physical education. Sad, yes, but these losses don’t generally affect most of us day-to-day. There is, however, one course that’s disappeared that has a major impact on all of us: driving class!

I remember learning to drive at school, an actual class with a simulation program and a teacher who braved the roads with kids who sometimes didn’t know a gas pedal from a gas tank. I was told that if I didn’t pass drivers education, I wouldn’t graduate. But none of us argued because we all wanted to pass. A drivers license was a ticket to freedom.

Today, however, many young people eschew getting a drivers license. Some say they are happy to rely on ride sharing, others believe driving is too stressful. I’m guessing the latter has to do with being uncomfortable behind the wheel, because they’ve never learned to control a vehicle properly. Without a certified instructor, young people are forced to drive with Dad, or an older sibling, or some other random adult, people often not prepared to tutor someone in the delicate art of driving.

In the good old days, high school students were often required to pass drivers education.

Of course the outcome of learning driving skills freeform is that many people don’t know how to drive properly. You know who they are. Those who think a red light is just a suggestion. People who are seemingly unaware that there’s a device called a directional signal. Others who have no idea what those lines on the road mean. And the many who believe that they are perfectly capable of playing a videogame and eating a Big Mac while behind the wheel.

Here’s the thing. If you don’t want to learn to drive, that’s fine, as long as you can get where you want to be without coercing others to help out. And those who want to drive need to take a proper course, because when you get in the driver’s seat without the appropriate training, bad things can occur.

Note that some of the main causes of accidents are distracted driving, speeding, red-light running, and impaired driving, which means that approximately 80% of traffic accidents are said to be avoidable and preventable and are caused by human error. Approximately 46,000 people in the U.S. die annually in traffic accidents and over one-and-a-half million suffer injuries, some of whom wind up with life-long disabilities.

I know we can do better, even if we can’t get high schools to put drivers education back in the curriculum. It’s time we took driving seriously, because our lives literally depend on it.

Careful out there!

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4 thoughts on “What ever happened to drivers education?

  1. Jeff Leaf says:

    Oooo! I wonder what pushed this button? I remember those days of Driver Ed in high school. My first paid summer job was teaching Driver Ed. Dealers gave us cars outfitted with brakes for the passenger. We had a figure 8 range at the school. One teacher stayed at the range, one took a car a day on the road and 5 or 6 other cars had student instructors in the passenger seat. It was fun for me then. The others were student teachers were athletes, too, so we made the most of it. I never heard of any of my students getting into a serious accident.

    By the way, did you know that STEM didn’t start as STEM? I’ll save that for another time.

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  2. annemontgomeryauthor2013 says:

    Thank you, Jeff! That’s exactly how I remember drivers ed. I wish people were still taking it. I don’t know if the roads are as bad nationwise as they are in Phoenix. I hope not. At some point, share that STEM thing. 😉

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    • Jeffrey Leaf says:

      I don’t know if roads are as bad, but drivers are. As for STEM: In 2000 the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) to the lead to bring the other technical societies together to promote tech education. I was a VP of ASME on Pre-College education and living in Fairfax. I worked with a congressman to draft that first bill. HR 4271, The Science, Math, Engineering and Technology Education Act. Sounds good until the acronym rears its ugly head: SMET.

      Well, I testified before the House Science Committee on that bill. Then I gave a presentation before ASME top management. In my smart-ass style, I worried that the name will kill the movement. I told them that SMET sounds like something you spit up when you have a cold.

      Not too long after that, the name was changed to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. I wouldn’t dream of taking all of the credit for the name, but I do think I had a part in it.

      By the way, you never mentioned what button was pushed to make you write about driver ed.

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  3. annemontgomeryauthor2013 says:

    Why, thank you, Professor! Very impressive. Thank you for taking part. I believe in STEM. Really. It’s just not reasonable that every kid in school is going to be successful in those fields. And, sadly, that seems to be what education gurus are pushing. As to my buttons, there are a lot of them. 😉

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