Column: Drivers’ Ed must return

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Penny-wise, pound foolish attitudes just don’t add up with lives on the line

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

My old racing helmet and gloves — without hours and hours of training, teaching and studying even these wouldn't have kept me safe on a racetrack. For young drivers, selt belts and air bags aren't enough to keep them safe, either.

By all rights, I should be dead.

It was 1981, and I was driving an old Toyota Corolla faster than I should with studded snow tires. A buddy was in the car and I was showing off. I made it through the first half of an elongated “S” turn, but lost the back end and careened off the road to the left, as the road turned right. Somehow, and 30 years later, I still don’t know how, I managed to cut the wheel right, the car went up on two wheels and struck a road sign on the left side of the car.

I managed to get the car back on the road, and down on four wheels and back in the right lane. I pulled off the road to try to collect my wits, such as they were. Just then, a giant dump truck came up the road in the opposite direction. Had I been 30 seconds later, I’d have been killed right then and there. Friends and classmates were not as lucky, and it seemed like a more than annual ritual to attend a funeral.

As a young newspaper reporter, I covered them over and over, teens killed in senseless accidents — one still haunts me, when four kids died in a fiery wreck in the fog.

So you can imagine the dreadful sense of de ja vu I have now, living in Unionville.

Except of course, we actually had drivers’ ed — which while woefully inadequate is better than nothing, which is what you get at Unionville if you can’t or won’t pony up $300.

I’m one of the lucky ones and I went on to really learn how to drive, graduating from Bertil Roos’ Grand Prix Advanced racing course at Pocono Raceway, and spent years completing in SCCA National Road Rally and Autocross events. Somewhere, buried in a closet is a box of trophies — but with a pair of 10-year-olds at home, driving fast isn’t something I want to glorify, not before I can teach them vehicle dynamics, apexes, contact patches and why a car does what it does under a handling load or in a panic situation, lessons I passed onto their older brothers, both UHS grads.

I know what it takes to drive 150 MPH and do it safely — I’ve done it — and it takes classroom time, time bench racing (when you sit and just think your way through a racing lap, over and over) and track time. Simulators, of course, are helpful. But it takes time, teaching and effort — whether you’re strapping yourself into a race car or a Honda Civic.

So I have to share Brian Miller’s frustration with the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, Monday night. Brian lost his daughter Abby to a senseless accident that, potentially, a minimal amount of professional driving training might have averted. Instead of just grieving, he and his wife swore that they would do everything in their power to make sure that no other parent would have to go through what they have. They founded Safe At Home, The Abby Miller Foundation. The Millers have raised money and awareness on the dangers of youth driving and been able to donate simulators to Unionville High School, and hope to be able to donate 15 — enough for an entire class.

Miller, during his passionate plea Monday night for the school board and administration, was too much of a gentleman to suggest the insanity of in one moment, arguing to keep a computer applications class as essential, and then dismissing drivers’ ed as, well, not quite so much.

I, being both a highly trained performance driver and a former long-time technology magazine editor can unequivocally tell you this: no one, no one ever died from lacking Excel skills. And frankly, any ninth grader who is not somewhat capable in either the Microsoft Office suite, or the Apple Pages/Keynote/Numbers combo, Open Office or Google Docs is probably in big academic trouble before ninth grade. Seventh grade is the absolute latest that should be taught, as far as I can see.

That brings us to the rather embarrassing argument that parents should be responsible for teaching driving to their kids. Why not algebra, then? Heaven knows a lack of algebra skill is not deadly (I’d be long gone if it were so). Why not Consumer and Family Science? Why not Spanish?

The simple reason is this: all require professional training to teach properly. As does driving.

Drivers’ ed — free and mandatory — needs to be restored to the curriculum of Unionville High School. Is a teen life worth $85,000 — the estimated cost?

How about your life?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — In addition to serving as Editor/Publisher of The Unionville Times and its sister sites, Mike was Executive Editor of Home Theater Magazine, Editor-in-Chief of E-Gear Magazine, and a featured contributing editor to Home Entertainment, Digital TV, C/NET, E/TOWN and various other tech outlets — in addition to covering the digital technology revolution, he also served as a judge for the Codies, the annual software industry awards for a number of years. He also covered IndyCar and NASCAR racing during the 1980s and entirely too many funerals of young people killed in cars.

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