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Newton forum for young drivers to discuss sharing road with cyclists

Posted by boston.com  September 19, 2013 03:02 PM

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Sharing the road with bicyclists will be among the topics discussed at a forum for young drivers and their families planned for Sept. 25 at Newton North High School.

Teens and their parents will hear from several speakers: Dan Strollo, executive director of the In Control Family Foundation; Joani Geltman, a professor in education, psychology and nursing; and John Panica, a Newton Police Youth Officer.

The panel will address safe driving and sharing the road, as well as the roles parents play in supporting their teens through driver education. The forum begins at 7 p.m.

“It's a conversation about sharing the road and how important it is that people recognize the road is not just for cars, and that they take into consideration that there are pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles of different shapes and sizes," Strollo said.

Strollo’s organization teaches advanced driving courses that he says go beyond the scope of what is covered by most driving schools. In a four hour course, students are put through a series of scenarios that may occur on the road, including emergency stops at 60 miles an hour.

Strollo explained a hypothetical situation in which knowing how to react in what he called a “panic stop at highway speed” may help save bicyclists.

“Think of a scenario where a bike falls ahead,” he started. “There’s a necessity for the person in the vehicle to aggressively reduce speed.”

The problem, he continued, is that because most young drivers today are not trained in emergency stops, they are startled by the noise of the car breaking, the sensation of a tightening seatbelt and the feeling of a loss of control. If they then take their foot off the brake pedal, “it’s a tragedy about to happen.”

During the course, such stops are simulated by having drivers brake in front of a wall of cones without running into it.

Strollo and Kathleen Maguire, community engagement manager at In Control, also discussed the need for a change in societal attitudes toward driving.

“We all need to come together and realize that for far too many years, we’ve just been handing out driver’s licenses,” Maguire said. “This isn’t just about teaching a course. This is about shifting a societal attitude.”

The main message of the forum next week, according to Strollo and Maguire, is that learning to drive is a process that requires commitment. Drivers need to be in complete control of that vehicle, which is a time-consuming process.

The tools drivers need – such as properly adjusted mirrors to see behind them and to the sides – are all available, and it’s simply a matter of learning to use them properly.

“I don’t think we should dismiss the importance of our drivers having skills in order to keep the cyclists safe,” Strollo said. “It’s not surprising that we have a lot of crashes. When it comes down to bike safety, there’s a lot of things that are ultimately the responsibility of the driver, but it’s not as simple as saying they need to pay attention. They need to be educated on how to be a safer driver in general.”

Shandana Mufti can be reached at malika.mufti@globe.com.

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