I heard some very telling if disheartening statistics yesterday:
* A driver is at the greatest risk of being involved in a vehicle crash within his or her first 24 months on the road.
* Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among Americans aged 16-20, and for each teenager who dies, 10 others are incapacitated as the result of injuries sustained in a crash.
* Among Little League-aged baseball players, it can take four years for a shortstop and second baseman to become adept at turning a double play. It takes 1500 hours of practice for a youngster to truly learn how to play soccer. Yet we expect every teenager to become a skilled and safe driver with less than 100 hours of classroom education and behind-the-wheel experience.
Such statistics might discourage you from ever venturing out of your driveway again. Or, if you’re Toyota, they inspire you to do something about those numbers.
I heard those statistics yesterday while attending a Toyota Driving Expectations program at Phoenix International Raceway, where for three days this weekend and three more next weekend, Toyota invites teenage drivers and their parents to participate in a four-hour program designed to better equip them to the demands of driving.
There are many teenager driver-safety programs that stress the same defensive driving skills taught in the Toyota program. But what impressed me about Toyota Driving Expectations was the fact that it requires parental participation.
Among the parents participating yesterday was a father who already knows a lot about driving; he’s a test driver at one of the automaker test tracks in the Phoenix area. Sure, he said, he works for one of Toyota’s competitors, “but we want our daughter to be a safe driver,” and his daughter’s safety trumps brand loyalty.
Parents not only get their turn behind the wheel on a driver distraction course in which the instructors from the Fast Lane driving school do, truly, drive the driver to distraction, but they are reminded that when it comes to driving, they need to be coaches first and parents second. In other words, they need to break out of the typical “don’t do that” mode to both teach and to reinforce through praising the safe and defensive driving skills that can protect not only their own children, but everyone else who shares the road.
As one mother put it: “I’m learning to keep my mouth shut,” speaking up only as necessary to benefit, not to berate the new driver.
The teenagers get three turns at the wheel. On one course they learn the importance of keeping their eyes up on the road, scanning constantly and anticipating and responding to what might happen. “Healthy paranoia” is a phrase the teens hear about the attitude a defensive driver needs.
On another circuit, teens take what they’ve learned about vehicle dynamics – such things as center of gravity, mass and velocity, contact patch, and anti-lock braking -- and apply them in maneuvers on both wet and dry pavement.
Finally, the teens also face the distracted driving course, where they see just how difficult it can be to drive safely while also trying to do such things as change CDs, open a water bottle, carry on a conversation, all while sending and receiving cell phone text messages as the audio system blasts at full volume.
“Responsibility” is a word used a lot by the instructors, who note that not only the driver of a vehicle has responsibilities but so does everyone riding in that vehicle.
Toyota Driving Expectations also includes a session for the students on financial expectations, where they discover what it costs to own and operate a vehicle, and how those costs multiply for those who get speeding tickets or who are involved in crashes.
Speaking about what it costs to buy and operate a vehicle, one thing I did not hear was any suggestion that the teens or their parents should buy a Toyota vehicle. This day was about becoming better drivers, not selling cars.
After Phoenix, Toyota Driving Expectations concludes its 2007 schedule October 19-21 in Arcadia, California. The schedule for 2008 will be posted soon on the www.toyotadrivingexpectations.com website.
-- Larry Edsall