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Driver’s Edge: Teen Driving School Goes Beyond the Basics

There is a fair amount of bemoaning the high fatality and accident rates among teen drivers, but precious little done to make a difference. In 2002, Driver’s Edge, based in Las Vegas, started to do something about this and has made empowering teen drivers their job. The local program has grown since then, and with help from sponsors has gone national. The 2006 Driver’s Edge schedule included a two-day stop in Michigan, and as I have two nieces with new driver’s licenses, I got them signed up. As a regular contributor to VehicleVoice, I’m glad use the space to share our experience and help spread the word on this fantastic program.

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I first heard about Driver’s Edge in 2005, when I attended a Bridgestone tire event for AutoPacific. I was beside myself with excitement when I heard Driver’s Edge was returning to our area this summer and there was the opportunity to get my nieces Angel and Megan into the class. My sister-in-law Jane and I took them to the program and we made a family day of it.

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The Mission
The mission of Driver’s Edge is simple: To save lives. Their method is “make highways safer through comprehensive hands-on youth driver education.” They teach teen drivers how to recognize their own driving limits and abilities as well as those of the automobiles. The program open to teen drivers age 16 to 21 with a valid driver’s permit or license, and teens are welcome to repeat the course if they have the opportunity.
Jeff Payne, the group’s founder, starts with the assumption that teens are not incapable. The do lack experience, an issue best addressed through education. This education is not being provided in basic driver’s education courses, where the goal is simply to give people enough information to pass mediocre state driving tests. Driver’s Edge enhances a basic course with gritty stuff about car control, vehicle dynamics, proper driving position, a bit on car care, and specific examples of how deadly a distraction at the wrong time can be. Driver’s Edge helps its students learn what a car can do, what it can’t do, and the knowledge and confidence to handle unexpected situations. Driver’s Edge’s motto sums up the approach: Know Yourself. Know Your Limits.

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Jeff is a former professional race-car driver who clearly loves sharing his skill and love of driving and racing. He has taken his experience on tracks and roads in the United States, Europe, and Japan and his experience running his own exclusive driving school and created every element of this program for developing better teen drivers, from the courses to the tests to the take-home booklets.


The Session
The four-hour session includes a pre-test and a post-test and four distinct instruction modules; Driver’s Edge also follows up at twelve and eighteen months after the class with a survey to find out if the students have improved and if the program was successful in making a difference for them.

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Parents are strongly encouraged to attend with their kids, and many were there at our session. Both students and parents get take-home guides to teen driving, with specific advice for each. These impressive booklets cover basic and advanced information new drivers need to learn, and some that parents need to be reminded about. After class, students get certificates of completion and various donated goodies. Megan and Angel went home with Firestone car-care kits and a Driver’s Edge hat and t-shirt. Also at the end of the session, each in-car instructor picks a most-improved student of the day and the student with the highest score on the pre-test are awarded with trophies and a prize. In our case, two students had the same top score; each won four tickets to the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway on July 30, courtesy of Indy Racing League. (IRL is among the Driver’s Edge partner and corporate sponsor family.)
While students are getting checked in and completing the pre-test, a series of 911 calls and footage of a terrible, fatal teen accident a few years ago in Las Vegas is shown. There are comments from the survivors, the parents, and the emergency responders. This was the type of tragic accident Driver’s Edge empowers teens to avoid. The driver simply was distracted, made an error, and did not have the skill to correct it. Consult with New York City personal injury attorneys if you have been involved in an accident caused by negligent drivers. Visit sites like www.1800askgary.com if you need legal assistance with your accident claim.

I watched the crowd as the 911 tapes began. Parents and students don’t focus in at first, and slowly start to realize just what they are hearing and seeing. The tent grows more and more quiet. And Driver’s Edge has your attention.
Jeff kicks off the session and tells everyone why he’s there and what he hopes to accomplish, as well as introducing the day’s instructors. His belief in the need for better driver’s training and dedication to this program comes through loud and clear. He connects with the kids and parents and has solid, no-nonsense advice for both. He goes through ideas like understeer and oversteer, load transfer, skid control (“when in doubt, both feet out” and “in a spin, both feet in”).

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The students are split into four groups to be rotated through the four modules. Two are static, including Mike Moser’s Vehicle Car Care and Seating Position lesson and, in our case, a session with a Michigan State Trooper. Mike’s module incorporates elements of Firestone Compelete Auto Care’s “Car Care Academy,” another Driver’s Edge partner. The two dynamic modules include a braking and avoidance/lane change course and a skidpad course. (VehicleVoice contributors attended an unrelated Bridgestone Drive and Learn program, geared toward adults in April. Download our podcast to get an idea of what skidpad courses can look like in action.)

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At each of the driving exercises, two or three students are assigned to a driving instructor and car. The instructor takes students through the course, demonstrating and explaining the car’s behavior and methods for controlling it. Then each student takes a few runs to experience and learn in a safe and controlled environment. Angel and Megan found the ride-along portion more intimidating than having to do it themselves, as the instructors intentionally take the cars nearer the vehicle limits. As Megan said, when she drove she found it just wasn’t as hard as it looked.

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Mike Moser was definitely one of the highlights, as he took the relatively dry subjects of where to fill windshield washer fluid, proper driving positions, seatbelt use, and the correct position for your sideview mirrors and made it entertaining. We hit this module last, and Mike was able to hold much of the student’s attention in spite of it having been by then a relatively long, information- and excitement-filled day.

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The State Trooper talked about Michigan laws, what to do if you are pulled over, various defensive driving techniques, and had the students and some parents experience the vision-impairing goggles, which simulate a blood-alcohol level of .10, higher than most states’ legal limit. He answered questions from the crowd, ranging from changes in our construction zone speed limits of late to whether there is a law against driving barefoot. (It’s not illegal, but not a smart, either.)

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All in all, there aren’t many things I’d rather have done with that Saturday afternoon. Megan and Angel would recommend the program and would love to do it again. And next year, if Driver’s Edge comes to Detroit, you just may see me there among the volunteers for the day. I appreciate the opportunity was available to my nieces, but both before I saw it first hand especially after, I believe this is a program that makes a difference.

4 Comments

  • Bob Wills| December 18, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbour were just preparing to do some research about this. I am very thankful to see such great info being shared freely out there.

  • Chuck Thompson| July 21, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    We attended the Driver’s Edge Teen Driving School on July 12th in the Chicago suburbs. Our two hundred mile trek was well worth the drive. Our eighteen year old son thought the training was “awesome”. Jeff Payne and the drivers were professional and informative yet “cool” and very approachable.
    My son Alex and I are convinced that the driving experience he aquired during the Driver’s Edge training is invaluable. Their motto, “Know Yourself. Know your limits” was clearly demonstrated as the young driver’s knowledge, skill and confidence levels increased rapidly.
    Special thanks to all of the sponsors. There is no doubt that their driving school support will save young lives.
    I will definately look to Bridgestone the next time I need a set of tires or golf balls!
    Again, thank you for a job well done and for caring so much for our nations young drivers. Outstanding.

  • Laurie Fyock| June 26, 2008 at 6:50 am

    Will you be posting location schedules anywhere on the web?

  • Suzanne| July 16, 2007 at 5:49 am

    We participated in this course in Richmond, VA with our 16-year old son yesterday. It’s EXTRAORDINARY! I can’t say enough about it. If Driver’s Edge comes to a city near you, I urge you to attend. Jeff Payne and the other instructors are amazing. And their ONLY goal is to save lives. Adults learn a lot as well. Many things about driving we were never taught!

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