Today’s teen drivers certainly have their work cut out for them. Besides the sheer number and wide variety of motorized vehicles on the road, gadgets like smartphones and tablet devices can cause further distractions, even as they offer guidance that’s meant to be helpful, such as turn-by-turn directions.
However, until recently, public schools were almost solely relying on driver’s education curricula and teaching methods that hadn’t been updated for decades. Fortunately, thanks in large part to technological advancements and a father who’s singularly motivated to change things for the better, improvements are on the way – and are already being implemented in some states.
A Tragedy Reveals Outdated Learning Techniques
In 2003, a 17-year-old driver from Georgia named Joshua Brown lost control of his vehicle while driving in a rainstorm. His car hydroplaned at 40 miles per hour, causing him to hit a tree. Sadly, Joshua died in the incident, but his father, Alan, felt compelled to do something to improve the learning process for other new drivers.
Even people who have never taken driver’s education courses usually know there is a classroom portion in addition to the hands-on experience. However, as Joshua’s father asserted, his son wasn’t equipped with the kind of practical knowledge necessary to know how to safely react in a hydroplaning situation.
Another problem? In Joshua’s home state of Georgia, at the time of his death, most of the public schools there didn’t even offer driver’s education as an option. It’s the same way in most other cities in the United States, but Alan Brown has worked tirelessly for over 10 years to make things better for today’s drivers who are learning the rules of the road.
The Passage of “Joshua’s Law”
By forming an organization in their son’s honor, Joshua’s parents were able to raise $250,000 to buy driving simulators for their local high school. When legislation known as Joshua’s Law was passed easily in Georgia, it put a number of other positive changes in motion, such as the establishment of a state commission that defines driver’s education standards and provides funding for programs in the state. The law also allows a teenager to get his or her license at age 16 rather than 17, provided the individual has passed a certified driver’s education course.
Simulators Help Give Valuable Lessons
The driving simulators purchased by the foundation have already changed the way driving skills are taught in Georgia, and other states are following suit. The hope is that this early success could cause a ripple effect that influences other states to do the same.
One advantage of the simulation system is that a person can interact with the program and go through a crash situation dozens of times until he or she understands how to gain control of a car in a way that would be as effective and safe in real life as it is on screen.
Technology and driving have, historically, been considered strange bedfellows. Distracted driving and bad road etiquette are frequently attributed to our over-reliance on technology, and not only frustrates our fellow drivers, but also puts them in harm’s way. However, this rise in driving simulators in America’s schools proves that technology has the potential to improve our lives, rather than simply complicate them.
Expensive, But Worthwhile
There are some popular portable driving simulators that cost about $7,000 and are meant to be set up on a desk or at a table. Other full-cab models look almost identical to the driver’s side of a car, complete with ignition keyholes. Those can cost as much as $20,000. Some simulators come loaded with hundreds of scenarios covering all types of things that could happen when a person gets behind the wheel of a real car.
Although some school districts may be content to keep using older methods of instruction, statistics in Georgia indicate that simulation is paying off for students in that state, which in turn indicates that other states could launch similar initiatives to work driving simulators into their annual budget.
Between 2005 and 2007, nearly 150 Georgia schools received these high-tech driving simulators. Since then, teen driver fatalities in Georgia have fallen by about 60 percent.
Although it’s unfortunate it took a teen’s death to cause improvements in the way driver’s education is taught in the United States, one positive thing to remember is that Joshua Brown’s legacy lives on, and is partially responsible for helping encourage a revolutionary change in driver’s education.