Cars

Program teaches skills to young drivers

REAL DRIVING: In Control’s teaching involves a half-day session of advanced driving techniques at an airport or large parking lot.
REAL DRIVING: In Control’s teaching involves a half-day session of advanced driving techniques at an airport or large parking lot.Credit: IN CONTROL

Over time, we’ve managed to build so many safety systems into our vehicles that we’ve deluded ourselves into regarding driving as safe and routine.

It’s not as easy as we might think. Three-quarters of our newly licensed teenaged drivers—50,000 junior (under 18) operators in Massachusetts alone each year—are involved in a collision within their first two years on the road.

Safe driving is a message that three prominent figures are trying to drive home—Merrimack Valley auto dealer Gary Jaffarian, In Control Crash Prevention Training CEO Dan Strollo, and Connecticut attorney Timothy Hollister of the Hartford firm Shipman & Goodwin LLP.

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Driving accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths—2,000 Massachusetts deaths in 2010—and heartbreaking when they hit your community, your neighborhood, or, worst of all, your family.

That’s what happened to Hollister. When he lists his credentials on the subject of teen driving, he says only:

“Father of Reid S. Hollister, age 17, who died in the early morning of Dec. 2, 2006, the result of a one-car accident on the evening of Dec. 1, at Exit 34 on Interstate 84 East in Plainville, CT.”

He writes of being a responsible parent and concerned about his son’s driving. “Looking back, it did not seem that I had made some horrible, obvious mistake. So where did I go wrong? Or was I simply deluding myself? Would a stricter father’s son still be alive?”

In 2007, after a rash of teenage driving deaths in Connecticut, Hollister was asked to join a task force examining teen driving laws as a representative of bereaved parents.

As a result of that group’s recommendations, Connecticut went from having lenient teen licensing laws to one of the strictest.

The experience led to Hollister’s blog, www.fromreidsdad.org, and a forthcoming book, “Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving,” due out Sept. 1.

“My writing coincided with my immersion in the work of the task force and eventually resulted in my coming face-to-face with the realization that teen driving is much more dangerous than I had recognized when I was teaching my son to drive and then supervising his first year as a licensed driver,” Hollister says.

That’s the message that Strollo, president and executive director of the In Control Family Foundation (www.driveincontrol.org) has been preaching and teaching. There are more than 25,000 graduates of In Control’s state-certified crash prevention training.

Follow-up studies have shown that new drivers who complete the course have 70 percent fewer crashes, and the crashes they do have are 50 percent less severe.

Taking a course, for new drivers especially, is smart. With insurance costs for new drivers ranging between $1,500 and $3,500, the accompanying insurance discounts pay for the course in a couple of years—then keep on being financially beneficial.

A class costs $350 for the first family member and $230 for each additional family member. Participants can obtain special rates by forming a family, team, school, or neighborhood group of eight or more.

“Not a week goes by when I don’t speak with a family that has lost a child to an accident,” says Strollo. “The biggest factor isn’t drinking and driving, it’s not wearing a seat belt. “We’re the 50th ranked state in seat belt use. So much for Massachusetts considering itself one of the smartest states.”

Seat belt use is just one aspect of the course, but the point literally is “driven” home when an instructor takes students on a demonstration run through the slalom course and crash avoidance maneuvers. “They realize then that without a seat belt they’d be trying to keep from flying around the seat in the middle of trying to avoid a crash,” he says.

Course segments start with the basic highway-speed panic stop. “Students have to learn to keep the pedal mashed down, that the ABS pulsing and strange noises are OK,” says Strollo.

From there, there’s an anti-texting drive that shows students how far the car has traveled while they were distracted and that they’re slow to react to the brake lights in front of them.

Then there’s a slalom course at increasing speeds. “When they lose control, usually at 33 to 35 miles per hour, they’ve had the chance to fail in an environment where they won’t get hurt,” says Strollo. “It also teaches them why going 40 mph or more on a back road isn’t a good idea.”

A tailgating experience gives students four possible outcomes: safe stop, minor fender-bender, ambulance trip, or hearse. “Thirty percent manage to only wind up in the ambulance,” he says, “Seventy percent are in the hearse.”

Jaffarian is CEO of Jaffarian Volvo Toyota Scion in Haverhill, a fourth-generation family business. He’s made young driver safety a personal mission and seen to it that family members have taken the In Control course.

He’ll speak at area driver education programs, emphasizing the dangers of texting and tailgating, and how chances of a collision increase in proportion to the number of people in the car.

Jaffarian also talks of the math of driving: the costs of insurance, maintenance and acquiring a car. He offers each student a card good for a free inspection at his dealerships of any pre-owned car they are thinking of buying.

Strollo calls it a societal problem. “European drivers have far stricter licensing requirements, with mandatory courses like In Control, and as a result they have far fewer crashes.”

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