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What is teen driver training really worth?

Posted February 10, 2010
Updated December 13, 2010

Every parent experiences it at some point: the feeling of complete terror when you have to accept your teenager IS going to drive!

I’m going through it right now with my 16-year-old daughter. I worry about her safety and about the safety of those on the road around her, especially when you consider the facts:

- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.

- Every day, more than 10 young drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 DIE in car crashes! 10 each DAY!

- Per mile driven, teens are FOUR times more likely to crash than other drivers.

Do we really HAVE to let them drive? Of course we do.

But while all teenage drivers obviously lack experience, my daughter also seemed to lack any level of confidence. So I enrolled her in an advanced training course at the BMW Teen Driving School in Greer, S.C., knowing that ANY extra training she could get would only help HER become a more confident, safer driver – and help my husband and I feel ever so slightly better when she heads out on the road.

But I know plenty of people don’t have the time, money or even inclination to take their teen to a training school. So, I decided I should report on our experience with the hope that other teens and parents could benefit from what we learn.

The result is a five-part special report airing all of this week on WRAL-TV. We’re spending an entire week on the topic so that we could provide in-depth stories and actually demonstrate four specific skills.

I encourage parents to watch the segments WITH their teens, TALK about putting those skills into practice, and then go to an empty parking lot to actually practice the skills on a smaller scale.

In Friday’s segment we'll talk about how parents can set up a "mini-course" for such practice. Get with a couple of friends and do it together. Make it fun!

As for the BMW course, many viewers have already asked how to sign-up their teens. Both one-day and two-day courses are offered. We did the two days.

I’ll be honest, it costs a CHUNK of money. WITH a car club discount, I paid $760 (The one-day course is about half that). I swallowed HARD MANY times when I read that price! I looked up other, comparable courses. They were all about the same price.

But then I thought about the cost of the big screen TV my husband wants, the Wiis that so many families have, the money we spend on grabbing dinner out. They all add up pretty quickly!  

There are a few other, less expensive courses available.  Most aren't as in-depth, but they are still worthwhile!  ANY extra training for a teen driver is worthwhile. Especially when that training could potentially save your child's life – and maybe the life of their passengers and other drivers on the road! 

And now, like many of the other parents that I talked with that weekend, I believe the training at the BMW Perfomrance School was truly priceless.  I’m just glad we're able to share our experience with all of you.  I hope other teens AND parents will learn from our stories!


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  • Mike128 Feb 14, 2010

    First off, great series, I enjoyed watching it. I've instructed at classes similar to the BMW course as well as high speed drivers schools and have a few comments to add.. New drivers need seat time and practice. Having them hear "turn in the direction of the skid" doesn't really sink in till they actually do it. That is the point of courses like this, doing it. Cars just don't go out of control, they communicate with the driver, but the driver needs to be able to understand what they are feeling through the steering wheel and seat of their pants. Standard drivers ed classes focus on rules of the road, not car control. One of the things I always recommended as a way to get more practice was going to a go-kart track, specifically, a slick track, but any karting track would do. Here, they learn how to deal with skidding and sliding. As soon as your kids can reach the pedals, get them to a karting track.

  • JonahB Feb 11, 2010

    Drivers education classes need to implement training for drivers to run off the road and learn how to get back on without over-correcting. I've heard it too many times where a young teenager gets killed in a head-on collision because of something so simple as just getting back on the road. I think the state also should provide locations free of charge for teenagers to practice driving on a course similiar to the BMW course. And lastly, the next time you're sitting around on a Saturday afternoon, take your teen out for a drive and teach them something that they don't know about driving. It takes years in some cases to become good responsible drivers, but with more cars on the road, it is much harder for them than it was for us to learn. If something can be done that saves just one teen, it was well worth it.

  • tellyvt Feb 11, 2010

    Fabulous those these courses seem, the only respectable scientific studies every done on their effectiveness in reducing crashes show that they either have no effect or they increase crash rates. The reason is that such courses tend to increase the confidence of drivers who are generally already overconfident - which is one of the main reasons they have such high crash rates. The way experienced drivers avoid crashes is by avoiding the situations in the first place, not by their great vehicle handling skills. Decades of research on 'skill training' make it clear that (1) complex skills cannot be taught in a 1-day class, (2) these skills quickly fade if not used and, therefore, (3) repeated training is needed to maintain them. To lead parents to believe that they have done a good thing for their child by enrolling him/her in one of these seductive, but unproven courses is comparable to pitching a drug that has not been tested either for effectiveness or safety.

  • UNC81 Feb 11, 2010

    Excellent article, I've been to the BMW facility down there do to the one and two day driving schools, and it's some of the best money I've ever spent. You learn things there that you just can't learn anywhere else. Great article!

  • wayneboyd Feb 11, 2010

    I believe that more often than we realize a child beginning at a very early age starts to lern it's driving habits. They begin to watch the way their parents conduct themselves when they are under the wheel.
    When my youngest daughter turned sixteen she would settle for nothing less than a Camero Convertible which was a strain on my budget but I purchased for her, but I also rode with her in my tank Cadillac over 300o miles after she received her permit.
    I also told her that if she got one ticket, that I'd have to sell the cart because even claiming I was the principal driver of the Camero, the ins. was $2400.00 annually
    Today she's married with three kids, a happy soccer mom in a mini van and has never had any accidents or tickets. Its hair raising but it is a very rewarding accomplishment to see our kids succeed.

  • Smokin Feb 10, 2010

    I've done the M school and it's fabulous. If I had known about the teen school when my children were new drivers, I would have done all I could to get them enrolled. Thanks for sharing invaluable information with others.

  • Rolling Along Feb 10, 2010

    If drivers education was really about education they would include a course similar to the BMW course. And include refresher training along the way. Currently accidents cost the US around $169 billion dollars a year and kill 40,000+. The carnage has to stop. We need to seriously consider raising the driving age, require periodic testing and re-certification for everybody, not just certain groups. We also need to make the penalties for poor driving; ie; DUI, excessive speeding, multiple convictions, etc. SEVERE enough that people will pay attention.

    FWIW way back in 1974 when I got my license my parents paid for me to take a performance driving course similar to the BMW course. I am currently required by my company to take a Defensive Driving course every two years. I remain ticket free, and accident free after 35 years of driving and nearly 1 million miles of driving, and no I don't drive for a living.

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