By on February 24, 2009

In response to Jack Baruth’s editorial, Mike Stone writes:

I have been making the same 60-mile round trip commute for many years, my route consisting of rural 2 lane roads and expressways. During the course of every winter, regular as clockwork, I see 5 to 10 vehicles that have run off the road in icy, snowy or wet conditions. Some of these are clearly a result of excessive speed but on two occasions, I have been behind a vehicle that was travelling at or below a safe speed when it simply lost control. What could cause such a thing? A clue lies in a well-documented statistic that 93% of all traffic accidents are the result of human error.

Although cars have been with us for more than 100 years, driving a motor vehicle is an inherently foreign environment because the human brain was not designed to travel faster than running speed. Our “fight or flight” mechanisms become overloaded in panic situations when behind the wheel because we are not equipped to handle the rapidity of events. The result is often a situation where the brain is unable to process the inputs and send the appropriate messages to the body quickly enough and we “freeze” or we make an instinctive, possibly inappropriate, response.

The “brain freeze” condition is well known in military organizations where long periods of boredom can be punctuated by short spells of terror. The counter is to instil a series of automated responses (conditioned reflexes) so that individuals are able to respond appropriately to a given threat. The New York Police Department has 36,000 officers and in 2006, the force encountered 60 instances where officers had to fire their weapons in response to a threat.1 This means that each officer has a 1 in 600 chance that he/she will be involved in a shooting incident in a given year. Despite this low probability, officers undergo regular firearms and threat response training in order to reinforce their conditioned reflexes and override brain freezing. Airline pilots carry out the same type of conditioned reflex training to meet emergencies that most will likely never encounter in their entire careers.

Driving a motor vehicle has some similar characteristics to the high-risk professions noted above—long periods of boredom and mundane tasks occasionally punctuated by short periods of unexpected stress. Yet the training that most drivers receive tends to concentrate on the mundane, mechanical aspects of operating a vehicle and we develop conditioned reflexes that may be completely inappropriate in emergencies.

In 2006, there were 250.8 million passenger vehicles2 in the U.S. and 5.2 million3 were involved in a collision of some description. This means that each vehicle had a 1 in 48 chance of being in a collision—12 times more likely than a NY police officer had of firing his/her weapon! Viewed from this perspective, it seems almost reckless that the average driver can only count on brain freeze and possibly inappropriate conditioned reflexes to deal with unexpected or stressful situations.

Advanced driver training is designed in part to instil revisions to our conditioned reflexes under certain conditions so that we are better able to handle emergencies and to refine our typical driving behaviours. A note of clarification here, advanced driver training in this context is limited to defensive driving and winter driving courses. I specifically exclude autocross, high-performance and track courses because the skills learned have almost no application to everyday driving.

Advanced driving courses teach situational avoidance and embed the continual, almost subconscious use of “what if” scenarios while driving. A driver has the opportunity to “feel” the dynamics of a vehicle in a controlled environment. How does a vehicle behave just before it loses adhesion with the road and how is adhesion restored? What does it feel like when two wheels on the same side leave the road or lose their grip? It is infinitely better to answer these questions in the safety of a course environment than on a public road. Once these situations have been experienced, the driving input corrections readily become conditioned reflexes and much of the potential for panic is removed if/when they occur in real world driving.

There is a suggestion that driver training can lead to overconfidence and more aggressive driving. This abstract is difficult to prove or disprove although a countervailing argument would be that a naturally aggressive driver who attends a course might simply become a more knowledgeable aggressive driver.

If airline pilots invest hundreds of hours training to handle a statistically unlikely situation, it is plain common sense for the average driver to invest a relatively short time preparing for a distinct possibility.

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52 Comments on “Editorial: A Case for Advanced Driver Training...”


  • avatar
    mikey

    I agree 100%.Advance driving courses should be mandatory.There is no better teacher than experience.The insurance people know this thats why us old folks get such great rates.

  • avatar
    h82w8

    In the U.S. military you “train like you fight and fight like you train.” Just as this mantra (properly applied) works to turn ordinary kids into professional warriors — and the U.S. military into the world’s best, most professional fighting force, it would work to turn ordinary motorists into engaged drivers. Paying for it, however, is something else entirely….

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    This quote from the article sums it up nicely:

    “If airline pilots invest hundreds of hours training to handle a statistically unlikely situation, it is plain common sense for the average driver to invest a relatively short time preparing for a distinct possibility.”

    Thank you for this very logical, and well thought piece.

  • avatar
    njoneer

    100% agree.

  • avatar

    Agreed. Mr. Baruth’s shallow argument amounted to little more than a conceited “I am an advanced driver, and even I had to rely on luck to save my bacon once or twice; therefore advanced driver training is pointless.” All the while clearly demonstrating that not only was he lucky to avoid the crash, but lucky that his irresponsible speed did not cause more damage. If we all relinquish our responsibility as drivers and rely solely on our padded cocoons to protect us… well, God help us.

    Driving is a skill that takes practice, discipline, and knowledge. True, there may be a very human tendency to become overconfident when armed with higher degree of skill, but for those who can temper that – they are all the more safe behind the wheel.

    I will not argue the fact that sometimes despite the best intentions, fate/luck/stupidity/whatever can get the best/worst of a situation and start bending metal – and unfortunately tissue as well. However, active safety is an exercise to try not to get your butt in the mess in the first place – to dismiss that philosophy is reckless.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Well done Mike – a well thought out and reasoned response to a somewhat confused editorial.

  • avatar
    tigeraid

    Thank you sir, you summed it up nicely and provided the same statistics I was grasping for in my reply.

    I will however, argue that racing experience does help you in terms of control and reflexes. To say that learning how to threshold brake, trail-throttle and downshift (when necessary) without making things worse will DEFINITELY help you in real life.

    However, I will note that about…. 60% of what you learn of safe driving by racing, you learn in a winter driving course. Winter driving courses should be mandatory in BOTH our countries–I was lucky enough to take one.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Jack’s editorial was not a slam against defensive driver training, but rather false confidence brought on by advanced driver training. His story about a 123 mph rip down public highways was clearly aimed at the overconfident driver; not the defensive one.

  • avatar
    McDoughnut

    I’m going to take a contrarian viewpoint:

    Drivers Ed is of dubious benefit – while for the few it might instill some life saving skills, for the masses it simply provides a false sense of competence.

    Comparing professional pilots to SUV rolling housewives – talk about an apples and oranges comparison!

    If people are content to drive this poorly (…if you can’t figure out why seatbelts are good idea….why are you driving?) then perhaps we need to let Natural Selection take charge and keep some of these bad habits from being passed on – Hello Generation Y!

  • avatar
    AKM

    Thank you for this very intelligent piece.
    Having taken defensive driving classes, I came humbled from the experience, as I realized how much I didn’t know, and extremely conscious that one day in a controlled environment, while extremely useful, does not cover all possibilities. Certainly NOT more aggressive through overconfidence. But I suspect some wanabee rallye racers think one day of class is all they need to know all there is to know…Instructors certainly discourage that attitude.

  • avatar
    Dawnrazor

    I am SO delighted to see an article like this here. I have maintained all along that we definitely need to get some cars off the road, but my libertine sensibilities preclude me from supporting totalitarian or fascist means of accomplishing this (I am steadfastly against higher taxes, “gotcha” law enforcement via “big brother” means, or draconian safety/emissions standards that hurt the automakers and further reduce the quality of life for the middle class). One way to accomplish this (AND actually improve traffic safety overall while reducing congestion) is to make it much more difficult to obtain a license.

    People don’t stop to realize that the drive to and from work every day is, by far, the most dangerous activity of daily life. I sound like a grizzled old driver’s ed teacher, but people really have no concept of the basic physics involved with a 3000+ lb. mass travelling at 70 MPH (if they REALLY did have an understanding, I think we would see a lot fewer drivers talking on the phone, eating, grooming, screwing around with radio/sat/ipod, wanking, etc.).

    I think we should institute a standardized training and testing program that is much more rigorous than what is currently in place. I would require EVERYONE to go through 20-30 hours of classroom training followed by at least 8-10 hours of actual driving instruction. The tests would be difficult, and plenty of people would fail on their first attempt, but would have unlimited opportunities to retrain and retest. People would then be required to retest (written and driving) every 10 years or so in order to retain their license. This could weed-out a lot of bad drivers and have the overall effect of reducing congestion, which improves the environment, our energy appetite, AND makes the roads safer overall. This would, of course, be expensive, but the applicant would bear the costs involved (before any hearts start bleeding for the “underprivledged”, please consider that if the applicant cannot afford to go through the training and testing, he/she more than likely also cannot afford to RESPONSIBLY drive a car). It’s time to stop regarding driving as an unalienable right in this country (really, does anyone in this country EVER get declined a license based solely upon lack of competence?), and make it a PRIVLEDGE more along the lines of getting a pilot’s license.

    The population of folks unable to be licensed will definitely still need transportation, and this could provide the needed grass-roots support for expanded mass-transit options. Ultimately, everyone wins: those for whom driving is a chore and means to an end will be relieved to have the transit options, while those of us for whom driving is much more than simple transportation will have safer and less-congested roads to drive upon! (assuming we can pass the tests…)

    I know this is probably a hopelessly utopian pipe-dream, but I really do think it could make a REAL difference (which is why it would be summarily dismissed by our elected “leaders”).

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Agreed. Drivers liscences in this country are treated as a right not a priviledge to be earned.

    In the long run I do not think the cost question would be a problem. The reduction in accidents would result in a huge reduction in insurance premiums (how about a premium reduction for voluntarily taking a class?), and a greatly reduced need for emergency and law enforcement services.

    Prevention is almost always far less expensive than later remidies (consider if Sentors Dole, Sununu et al had been able to get Fannie and Freddy reined in!).

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I’m sure most pistonheads will agree with the basic premise. I’ll be one of the few dissenters.

    The major causes of accidents are (not necessarily in order) distraction (radio, nav system, ipod, CD, kids in the back, etc.), drunk driving, and speed that is excessive for conditions.

    Advanced driver training will not remove the ipod jack or the 6 disc CD changer from the car, and if those items are present, they’ll be used, even by someone who’s had “advanced” training.

    Advanced training won’t negate the effects of alcahol. Let’s please not pretend that all graduates of the “advanced” course will be tea-totalers.

    Advanced training won’t make people get up earlier and leave home earlier – so they’ll speed because they are running late.

    The trick is not to know how it feels when two wheels on the same side come off the road, the trick is to not let two wheels on the same side come off the road in the first place.

    Here is all the advanced training most people need – Don’t drink and drive. Keep your F’ing eyes on the road. Keep your F’ing hands on the wheel. This concludes advanced driver training.

  • avatar

    Hi Mike,

    Allow me to sneak into the line of people thanking you for confirming their beliefs long enough to point out a couple of things:

    a) Your example of NYC cops is perhaps unintentionally deconstructive. The city of New York is forced to pay millions of dollars every year to the victims of NYC police negligence or criminality. The cops miss their targets more often than they hit them, and some of the targets they hit are just plain wrong. Whatever training these guys have been getting isn’t accomplishing the job, and time-wise they get far more training that anybody is proposing for defensive driving.

    b) There’s such a thing as “time to proficiency”. Whether you believe in the fabled “10,000 hour theory” or think it can be done in less time, very few people think it can be done in an afternoon. It takes endless repetition to “bake in” unconscious skills. Nobody is willing to take that much defensive driver training, period.

    Okay, I’ll stand back and let the tide roll in :)

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I already covered these points elsewhere, but this commentary is off base on several levels:

    -Driving on the street is an easy task that requires minimal skill. It takes very little skill to drive a car safely on a public highway. Advanced driving courses would be as useful as would be advanced soda drinking classes for people who drink Pepsi — it just isn’t that tough to drive a car.

    -Most accidents are caused by bad behavior, not by a lack of skills. The decisions made that lead to accidents are the sorts of decisions that driver education teaches people not to make…yet they make them anyway.

    Numerous studies — I linked just two of money on the other thread — disprove this education thesis. It’s simply good fun to drive drunk, to not pay attention and otherwise be a dumbass. But if you do those things, even though they may be enjoyable or convenient, you’re going to have traffic accidents.

    If you want greater safety, then keep more young males off of the road, use graduated licensing for young people, have better enforcement of sensible laws, and put more electronic gizmos on cars that keep people from killing each other. Those things do work, and actually get results.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    Young males scare me less than housewives in full-size SUVs. Always have, always will – and I know plenty of young males.

    Being 26, I used to be a young male. Now I’m just a middle-aged male. Still “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” to be sure.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Being 26, I used to be a young male. Now I’m just a middle-aged male.

    Interesting definition of middle-aged.

  • avatar

    I honestly believe that “Driver Training” in this country is seriously deficient. I also thought that Mr. Baruth’s editorial was poorly thought out and had a fatalistic tone to it.

    The government is not going to teach drivers anything more than the minimum. Honestly, at least here in my state of Washington (yeah, the other Washington) the legislature is COMPLETELY in the pocket of special interest groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to the point of public school Driver’s Education and even the written DOL exam being nothing more than a MADD tutorial on DUI laws. You don’t learn how to control a car, but you sure as hell know how many ounces to get past 0.08% and how many days your license will be suspended when you are caught.

    I take my driving very seriously and devote all of my attention to the task when at the wheel. I don’t talk on my phone or allow myself to be distracted. I have witnessed many accidents in my lifetime, but never been the cause of one. I have avoided countless collisions over the years, including one this weekend when a driver blew through a stop sign in an intersection I would have been halfway through had I NOT noted his behavior as he approached and taken action. I have taken extra steps to directly train my teenage sons about driving, long before they ever took the wheel. Talking to them about the how’s and why’s when they were still in the passenger seat. When they were in “Driver’s Ed” I quizzed them about what they were learning and took it further than the school would, by teaching them to drive a stick shift, setting up a practice track on our property complete with parallel parking practice, and me occasionally pulling the handbrake on gravel so they’d learn to control the car when traction is lost.

    The theme here is personal responsibility. No American can, or should rely on the government to “fix” the issues of poorly trained drivers, drunk drivers, inattentive drivers, distracted drivers, or anything else for that matter. This is not Germany, or anywhere that requires true effort to get a license and a vehicle. Never will be. All you can do therefore is learn, pay attention, learn, and pay attention. If you want to really understand how to control a car at the edge of the envelope, by all means take an advanced driver course and do it. Just don’t expect anyone else on the road to behave rationally or predictably. When my sons are older I will take such a course with them. I think of it as an investment. The Government will not make this investment for you. You are on your own.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    tigeraid

    Pch101

    Absolutely correct, it does not take skill to drive a car on the street correctly. Mostly just common sense.

    But it does take skill to avoid the other idiots on the road who screw up in front of you. It also takes skill to negotiate winter driving conditions, especially in the unfortunate event that you get stuck. That is not easy, and training DOES help.

  • avatar
    SpottyB

    I think many here are really over analyzing the word “advanced” in advanced driver’s training. The author is not saying that it would eliminate or even reduce accidents caused by inattention or recklessness. But it would certainly cut down on those created by inexperience (like the low speed spin outs he mentions).

    It would only be “advanced” driver’s education because there currently are no required courses that teach even the most basic recovery skills. These should be taught to everyone who gets behind the wheel. Being told to steer into a skid is just not enough. EVERYONE should know what it feels like when the vehicle starts to lose control. And EVERYONE should what it feels like to recover. All of this should be learned in a controlled environment where there are no real consequences. During the skid recovery portion of the ADT class I was lucky enough to take – almost without exception – the driver would during the first few runs not react fast enough and spin. Then after a few they’d react fast enough, but over correct and spin. Not the kinda thing you wanna experience for the first time in traffic.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I agree that we would all be better off if driver training and licensing requirements in the US were to be upgraded significantly.

    I was shocked when the driving test for my daughter to get her license didn’t even include any highway portion! She didn’t even have to demonstrate being able to safety merge into traffic.

    Another thing which needs fixing is the lack of periodic re-certification. Pilots have to periodically demonstrate their competence to an examiner and drivers should need to do so as well. Perhaps once every five years during the prime of life, moving to bi-annually at age sixty and annually from age 70 and up.

    “we need to let Natural Selection take charge and keep some of these bad habits from being passed on”

    The problem with the Natural Selection argument is that often times people not at fault are killed by the ones who are.

    “my libertine sensibilities preclude me from supporting totalitarian or fascist means of accomplishing this ”

    Isn’t it discordant that you are against using government regulations to alter the physical fleet of vehicles, but are all for using government regulations to alter the list of who is allowed to drive and what competences they have to demonstrate to earn that privileged? “Don’t mess with my car, but putting me through a rigorous exam before I can drive it is okay.” Interesting.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    For the record, I’d like to say I think Jack Baruth and Pch101 are right, and that this article is wrong.

    Pch101 in his endless patience said it so well and so often that there is nothing left to be gained from me repeating his points.

    For anybody who really wants to know about the empirics of the situation, I once again recommend Tom Vanderbilt’s book, reviewed by Stephan Wilkinson at http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/book-review-traffic-why-we-drive-the-way-we-do-and-what-it-says-about-us/

  • avatar
    wsn

    Well, then, shall we all learn to feed livestock? Shall we all learn to program in Ruby? Or, shall we all learn to play a violin?

    No. We just do what we are best at. That’s all.

    As for the emergency handling, we have well-paid engineers creating VSC systems.

    Deep blue > Kasparov
    Automatic > Manual
    VSC > Advanced Driver Training

    Even if it’s not 100% that way, it’s already true for 80% of the population.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    -Driving on the street is an easy task that requires minimal skill. It takes very little skill to drive a car safely on a public highway.

    This is misleading. “driving” is not trivial. Most people require quite a bit of conditioning to do it well. Young drivers drive poorly in general even if you only compare young vs older females. That’s _years_ of consistent practice. This is the same behavioral patterns whether it’s for buckling up, shutting up, or not panicking when a unpredicted event occurs (which was the cause of those explorer firestone rollovers, and similar avoidable accidents).

    Whether this conditioning is reasonably teachable is the question, not whether what we know to be poorly conducted driver’s ed is effective.

    I would say this is a difficult topic because serious crashes are high stress, low probability events and the mind is not evolved to rationalize about them.

    Advanced driving courses teach situational avoidance and embed the continual, almost subconscious use of “what if” scenarios while driving. A driver has the opportunity to “feel” the dynamics of a vehicle in a controlled environment. How does a vehicle behave just before it loses adhesion with the road and how is adhesion restored? What does it feel like when two wheels on the same side leave the road or lose their grip?

    While knowledge is good and makes people feel smarter so individuals should participate, almost none of this is applicable to *most* people. Most people (outside of young males) simply don’t want to drive anywhere near the limit because they fear death, which is why the likely most effective training would be to show where the limit is so they can avoid it.

    Conditioning some of the young male demo requires more sophistication because they are reckless anyway, so something like a more comprehensive approach detailing and practicing the traffic conditions and configurations that most easily lead to collisions with an emphasis on the reasonable amount of margin necessary due to the dynamic nature of driving. Of course this is hard and expensive so the simple “solution” is to not allow them to drive.

    The standard regime of citing the 2 or 4 second rule or pointless exercises are so ridiculous it’s no wonder it’s pretty much ignored wholesale.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    Simple rules for safe driving.

    1. Drive slower, lower speed = shorter distance traveled for the same reaction time. Don’t be a slug and slow the traffic, see point 2.
    2. Keep your distance, ahead of you, and behind you. If people are tailgaiting you, maybe you are slow in the left lane. Change lane.
    3. Stay out of people’s blind spot. Watch for other people in your blind spot. The includes cars riding right next to you. Some people like to do that, it’s not good.
    4. Check all your mirrors, be aware of cars around you.
    5. Tire pressure, shocks that are not busted, yada yada yada, all around good mechanical state of the car matters.

    Now this may sound basic, boring and a little tedious, but those are proven rules that work for driving safely.

    When the general population does not even follow the basics, what are the chances that advanced driving skills for a few are going to do anything for anyone’s safety?

    Slower!
    Keep your distances!
    Blind spots!

  • avatar
    agenthex

    When the general population does not even follow the basics

    The most important basic rule is to act predictably and within boundaries of proficiency. “Accidents” usually occur when recognizable patterns with safe reactions are broached.

    Also, I’d note that modern limits are rarely ones of the car, but mostly human reaction.

  • avatar
    gogogodzilla

    It’s not just ‘driver’s ed’ that makes a good driver.

    South Korea has one of the world’s most thorough driver’s tests, with mandatory driver’s education (months and months of it, no less). Yet they have some of the world’s worst drivers.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    This is misleading. “driving” is not trivial.

    False. Driving on a street is quite easy. It takes very little talent to drive on the street, where minimal technical ability is required.

    The consequences of bad driving are not trivial, but that is because of the mass and physics involved, not because of the minimal amount of technical ability that is needed to drive a car.

    Young drivers drive poorly in general even if you only compare young vs older females.

    Young males are far worse than their older counterparts. Hormones and horsepower don’t mix well.

    I would say this is a difficult topic because serious crashes are high stress, low probability events and the mind is not evolved to rationalize about them.

    It’s incredibly easy for those who don’t approach it with an emotional, enthusiast bias to understand what is a rather simple, straightforward issue. Academic research consistently reaches the same conclusions about the futility of training. So you have to put away the driving groves and actually read the studies to get to the heart of the matter.

    Enthusiasts want to believe that their hobby is difficult, one that requires intense education to fully appreciate. But it isn’t — driving is a fairly simple activity to perform.

    Enthusiasts want to believe that training and education will rid the world of “the idiots.” The truth is that those of you who take a lot of unnecessary risks are, statistically speaking, “the idiots.” You can skid artfully, but if you skid artfully into other cars or into trees, then take a guess as to who “the idiots” are in this discussion. In the real world, we measure idiocy by results, which means accidents and fatalities, and we know who is crashing cars and who is doing the killing.

    We’re back to reality. Bad driving is often the preference of the person doing it. It is very difficult to use technical or classroom training in order to get people to change their emotional or personal preferences, or to get them to lose their lack of fear of death.

  • avatar

    Pch101 makes some excellent points, but they don’t negate this thoughtful editorial.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Enthusiasts want to believe that their hobby is difficult, one that requires intense education to fully appreciate. But it isn’t — driving is a fairly simple activity to perform.

    This is mostly true, but I still think the simplicity of driving depends on the vehicle in question. Driving a 1985 Corvette in the rain (at any speed) or giving a Caliber SRT4 the correct amount of throttle on a 90-degree turn does have a higher degree of difficulty than running an Optima in the same situations.

    If you replaced every car on the road with a Viper SRT10 or TVR people would probably be crashing all over the place because things aren’t so simple anymore.

    Of course, the average driver doesn’t own SRTs, TVRs or Corvettes.

  • avatar
    Mike S

    I’m the author of this article so please excuse me for defending it :)

    @Dynamic88

    The trick is not to know how it feels when two wheels on the same side come off the road, the trick is to not let two wheels on the same side come off the road in the first place.

    Ok. You’re driving along a two-lane road and the driver of an oncoming car is fumbling with his CD’s. He starts to drift into your lane, you blow your horn but you’re already forced partially onto the gravel shoulder doing 50 mph. Time for a quick lesson in skid control?

    Here is all the advanced training most people need – Don’t drink and drive. Keep your F’ing eyes on the road. Keep your F’ing hands on the wheel. This concludes advanced driver training.

    You’re driving on a snow-covered road and a car pulls out of a sidestreet 50 ft ahead of you. “Darn, I’ve followed Dynamic’s wise and informed driver training advice to the letter but I’m still in deep doo-doo.”

    @Jack
    Your example of NYC cops is perhaps unintentionally deconstructive.

    Sure, cops might miss their targets more often than they hit them (not surprisingly given the environment) but how many more times would they miss without training? More importantly, how many would be killed or injured because they froze in the face of a threat?

    Rhetorical questions but can anyone imagine that law enforcement would be improved if police training consisted of “Here’s a uniform – here’s how to put it on, a badge – pin it on your uniform, a gun – the bullets go in here and come out here. Most of your job will involve walking so let’s practice walking around the station a few times. Now go catch some bad guys”.

    There’s such a thing as “time to proficiency”.

    Indeed there is, Pavlovian repitition is well known and forms the basis for many training regimens. However there is also a lasting imprint phenomenon (episodic memory) where a meaningful occurance can be remembered in detail, for example we can remember where we were during 9/11.

    You are absolutely correct in saying that no-one can take driver training frequently enough for the info to become a conditioned reflex. However, it is quite easy to take an episodic memory and turn the information into a conditioned reflex through routine memory replays.

    A simple example: seeing a video of a train sweeping away a car on the tracks and routinely replaying that memory whenever you approach railroad tracks will make the act of stopping on a railroad track a completely alien experience.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    False. Driving on a street is quite easy

    Anything where improvement is consistently shown over long periods of active participation is not “quite easy”.

    If you want to redefine the term that way, then pretty much anything except some professional careers are quite easy.
    -

    Young males are far worse than their older counterparts. Hormones and horsepower don’t mix well.

    Sure, that’s why better training and conditioning should be specifically targeted if that’s a concern.
    -

    Academic research consistently reaches the same conclusions about the futility of training. So you have to put away the driving groves and actually read the studies to get to the heart of the matter.

    You should answer the points in the other thread. Fundamentally crappy studies mean nothing. Your metastudy, as awesomely crappy as it is, doesn’t even support your angle that NOTHING works.

    -
    Enthusiasts want to believe that training and education will rid the world of “the idiots.”

    Identifying some people as being wrong doesn’t make the oppose view correct.

    Most “enthusiasts” don’t take absolute safety as a top priority anyway so your pov of results is pointless. They have their goal, which don’t suite you. Too bad.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Wear the seat belt. Dont go where you can’t see or won’t be seen. Dont follow a car exactly behind it. Stagger yourself so you can see the tail lights of several cars ahead of the one immediately in front of you.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    This is a thoughtful piece with cogent arguments based in sound interpretations of rigourous science. I do have two points to raise:

    Mr. Stone, in the traffic safety research field we generally do not speak of “accidents”, but of collisions or of crashes. The terms are used interchangeably in casual speech, but “accident” implies a random or freak occurrence of nobody’s fault. In fact, the driver(s) involved almost always have an opportunity to take — or not to take — some action that will avoid or substantially reduce the severity of the collision(s). They may or may not take that opportunity, and they may or may not be able to take that opportunity, but the opportunity is almost always there.

    Driving safely and effectively involves skill, judgment, situational awareness, conditioned response, and other structured mental and/or physical behaviour. Experience behind the wheel brings a fairly adequate level of most of these safe-driving factors, but only over a great deal of time, as evidenced by the relatively enormous rate at which inexperienced drivers of all ages are involved in crashes. All of these factors can to varying degrees be taught and trained, which offers no magical shield against crash involvement, but compared to untutored experience does greatly accelerate the development of the mental and physical tools for safe driving. Driver training does not end at the conveyance of the relatively simple motor skills needed to operate a vehicle.

  • avatar
    hughie522

    As a young (21-year-old, on the road for two years) driver, I’m sort of offended by the idea that “older drivers are better drivers”.

    Generally, this is true. Experience does tend to help. However, I have seen many drivers twice my age make the same mistakes (and worse), and the whole idea of, “Let’s educate these youngins, who know nothing of driving.” is kinda glossing over the issue.

    So please, don’t trot out this tired, “More Educating For The Young People!” line and giving everyone else (like those who have been driving drunk for 20+ years) a free pass due to “experience”.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    As a young (21-year-old, on the road for two years) driver, I’m sort of offended by the idea that “older drivers are better drivers”.

    It pisses me off, too, but the fact of the matter is that the insurance rate tables back it up: young, male drivers are responsible for more accidents.

    I’m all for retesting older drivers—heck, I’d be good with retesting all drivers every five years**—but the stats are pretty ironclad. There’s a theory that the part of the brain that’s able to process the concept of logical consequences isn’t fully developed until one’s early twenties, and the way young drivers think (or don’t) lends some credence to that.

    ** I’d also like to see anyone convicted of DUI thrown in prison and their license used for mouse bedding. Oh, and I’d like police to enfore traffic laws other than speeding. Finally, I’d like a pony.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    @psarhjinian, re the part of the brain that’s able to process the concept of logical consequences isn’t fully developed until one’s early twenties

    Yes, though it seems age may be to some degree, possibly a substantial degree, a confounding factor for experience — most of us are both young and inexperienced when we begin driving, and there’s emerging research that the crash involvement of inexperienced drivers of any age is relatively high, due in significant part to not knowing how to seek and parse the relevant and disregard the irrelevant information from the rapidly-changing visual field. Look into the work of Doctor D. Alfred Owens, of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. His initial results suggest novice drivers have not yet learned how to scan their field of view efficiently to detect, perceive, evaluate, and process developing threats.

  • avatar
    benders

    There’s a difference comparing soldiers, policemen, and airline pilots and you average driver: they all do CONTINUOUS training. Advanced driver training once will do no more good than driver’s ed does now because no one will use the training often enough for it to do any good.

  • avatar
    210delray

    I’m with Pch101, Dynamic88 (great handle!), Martin Schwoerer, benders, and the guy who started it all, Jack Baruth.

    And I just had a near-miss a few hours ago. No brain freeze either. A Suburban or Tahoe on a side road tried to make a right turn on red, right in front of me as I approached the intersection in the far right lane. I saw him or her start to move out, so I hit the brakes of my ’98 Frontier hard, tooted the horn, and moved to the left edge of the lane. He or she stopped. I had dropped my speed from about 40 to 20. No harm, no foul.

    I had no time to check my mirrors to move into the next lane, where I would have been at fault if I had clipped another car. I did know that no one was directly behind me however.

    So there was a bit of luck involved in that the Suburban/Tahoe did stop. But my years of experience and never taking anything for granted reduced the might-have-been crash into a fender bender, with no likely injuries.

  • avatar
    Brendon from Canada

    I’d have to agree with Jack, Pch101 and the others; simple defensive driver training (in it’s current form anyway), simply isn’t very effective; yes there are tons of anecdotal stories about the defensive maneuver performed by countless drivers, but I would contend that the real benefit was not some form of “training” that kicked in, but merely situational awareness – one sees the potential accident/collision coming and avoids it. No training was really required – just attention. Taking this one step further, the most effective way to protect oneself is to be wrapped in a protective barrier (i.e. big German saloon)…

    @agentx, re: If you want to redefine the term that way, then pretty much anything except some professional careers are quite easy.

    Isn’t this true? Most of what we do on a day to day basis is pretty easy…

    It goes to the heart of the argument as well; there are few people who don’t know how to pilot a vehicle well, but it seems fair number who don’t put use that knowledge.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    You’re driving on a snow-covered road and a car pulls out of a sidestreet 50 ft ahead of you. “Darn, I’ve followed Dynamic’s wise and informed driver training advice to the letter but I’m still in deep doo-doo.”

    I used to take the family car out on the back roads in the winter. I’d throw the car into a skid then recover. Over and over. I’m literally a “seat of the pants” driver. When traction is lost, I feel it through my butt. I’m really good at controling a car in slippery conditions.

    Yet, if I’m driving on a snow covered road and someone pulls out of a sidestreet 50ft in front of me, I’m in deep doo-doo, despite giving myself advanced training in snow and ice driving.

    Advanced driver training isn’t going to make any difference for either me, or the idiot pulling out in front of me. We have to get people to quit doing stupid things – but I don’t know how we do that.

    It boils down to this – if we are really serious about reducing collisions, then we have to get serious about drunks, distractions, and going too fast for conditions. Those 3 things account for the overwhelming majority of collisions.

    The number of low speed spin outs due to inexperience is statistically insignificant. IOW, we need to concentrate on what really matters.

  • avatar
    JuniorMint

    Yet, if I’m driving on a snow covered road and someone pulls out of a sidestreet 50ft in front of me, I’m in deep doo-doo, despite giving myself advanced training in snow and ice driving.

    Is this a joke? Are you seriously implying you won’t be better equipped to swerve more effectively, and recover from the inevitable skid, than, say, the average Californian?

    I think you may have inadvertantly proven the wrong point.

  • avatar
    Ronman

    Excellent Piece Mr.Admin….

    Advanced training should be mandatory and should be the second step in the getting your license procedure.

    I Live in lebanon, the land of lawless roads, where people think lanes should be kept at the center of the car, and pot-hole avoidance is a common practice (even at 80kph on the freeway). not to mention the regular day to day dumbasses that think they are driving alone on the road.
    collision avoidance is an art, and i think,

    having driven in europe U.S and other more developed nations, I notice that the majority of drivers there are conditioned to not expect weird behaviors (because it ususally doesnt happen unless it’s unintentional).

    In lebanon I drive and instruct people to expect the unexpected, when someone indicates left, you have to think that he might go right (it has happened) and when I drive abroad, I tend to stick to the local laws enjoy but I notice that when something out of the ordinary happens people just dont know how to respond.

    A guy cutting in my lane is a normal thing, it doesnt even piss me off anymore. do that on a busy interstate in California (not necessarily intentional), and you got yourself a record setting pile up.

    It’s just that training does help, and when you do fall in a tricky situation and you get out safely in training you will have an 80% chance of relying on that experience in a similar situation on the road. here in lebanon we get that normal from our survival instinct, freezing will only happen once, and if you’re lucky you escape with a fender bender.

    Additionally, I dont trust drivers that have never had a minor traffic accident. meaning when that time comes they will not know what to do.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Is this a joke? Are you seriously implying you won’t be better equipped to swerve more effectively, and recover from the inevitable skid, than, say, the average Californian?

    I think you may have inadvertantly proven the wrong point.

    I guess it depends on what the point is. Could the average Californian who moves to Mich. benefit from some winter driving instruction? Perhaps. Would the average Californian benefit from such instruction if he remained in CA? Doubtful.

    It’s true that winter driving skills can be put to use in other loss of traction situations, but how often will that happen in CA?

    My point is simply this –

    Teach everyone to be an expert at skid control, shoulder recovery, etc., and you reduce the collision rate by 1%. (maybe, if we ignore the idea that such training makes drivers overconfident) Get the drunks out from behind the wheel, reduce collisions by 40%.

    It seems clear to me that advanced driver training is simply expensive, in terms of both money and time, and will yeild very little in terms of safety. The number of accidents caused by people who are unable to swerve expertly (at the point when swerving is all that is left) is tiny. If we can get people to do what they were taught in basic Driver Ed -don’t drive drunk, pay attention, don’t drive when sleepy, don’t tailgate, don’t speed- then we will have eliminated all but a small percentage of accidents.

    Part of the problem seems to be that people think sharpening one’s driving skills would make them a better driver. It seems logical enough. Just like sharpening one’s free-throw skills would make one a better basketball player. But the analogy is more like this – advance driver skills such as skid control and shoulder recovery are like practicing making a shot from the far end of the gym as the buzzer goes off. This won’t make you a better basketball player because you’re unlikely to ever use the skill. Best to work on your dribbling and your lay-up.

    Anecdotes don’t prove anything, but I’ll share one anyway. My mother has been driving since 1963. She drives the normal amount for a middle class American. She has had zero accidents. Never caused one, never been in one. I can say with great confidence she hasn’t the slightest notion of what it feels like when a car goes into a skid. I’m sure she could not recover if she went off the shoulder. In terms of skill, I’m a much better driver than she is. But I’ve had an accident. Fell asleep at the wheel. Sharpening so called “advanced” skills will not make up for doing something stupid. Shoulder recover skills don’t come into play when one is sleeping. I’m a more skillful driver than my mother, but she is a better driver over-all. Or at least we can say she is a safer driver. (P.S. mine was a single car accident, and I wasn’t hurt badly, even after rolling 3 times. I was in my early 20s at the time – before my brain was fully developed -relatively speaking )

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    I think that with both this article and the one that spawned it, folks are getting wrapped around the wheel (pun intended). Mr. Baruth wrote an article to illustrate a point that meaningless driver training programs just for the sake of driver training doesn’t improve safety. But more so, that accidents happen, even to good drivers and that survival has more to do with vehicle choice and availability.

    Many of us got tangled in the spokes of doing over 100mph on a Florida Interstate and other areas. This article has done the same thing in the other direction, supporting driver training as the solution to accidents.

    Driver Training in an of itself has little meaning. “What are you teaching?” Defensive driving courses better prepare you for real life incedents “if done correctly”. They can teach you how a (your) car will handle in a given circumstance. Winter driving courses; dito. Autocross or “race” schools also provide you with valuable “street” training as they teach you the edge of performance and what happens when you exceed it.

    Lastly, throwing some supprt to Pch101, driving is easy and it becomes more so with technology. However, he brings up a better point. MOST accidents are caused by BEHAVIOR. Someone chose to look away from the road and change the radio station or apply their makeup or eat that sandwich or (like I saw on the interstate yesterday) read that novel! All the trainnig courses in the world (even 10,000 hours) will not make Jack slow down or Jill get off the phone.

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    I think folk singer Adie Grey summed this up pretty well:

    Grandpa’s Advice by Adie Grey and Dave MacKenzie

    Verse 1
    I remember Sunday drivin’ in my Grandpa’s car
    Old songs on the radio; the smell of his cigar
    Everybody d’ honk at him because he’d drive so slow
    He’d just laugh and tell me, “Kid, here’s something you should know”

    Chorus 1
    They’re all jerks,
    When you’re out here on your own
    Just assume that everybody else is half-asleep or stoned
    They’re all jerks,
    And not a one knows how to drive
    So you gotta pay attention to make it home alive
    I’ll give you my philosophy, I guarantee it works
    Repeat it after me, kid,
    They’re all jerks.

    Full lyrics and more information here:

    http://adiegrey.com/

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Good stuff:

    http://www.smith-system.com/

  • avatar
    ctoan

    It’s true that the fault in many accidents lays with one person doing something stupid or not paying attention. That’s not the issue here. The issue is the ability to avoid that idiot and prevent an accident. If someone is trying to merge into you, do you speed up, slow down, dodge into another lane, or just let it happen and know it won’t be your fault? If you can measure your options and take one in a split second, any of those would be better than the accident.

    Stop thinking about trying not to cause an accident and start thinking about how to avoid any potential accident, because if you drive enough that other idiot becomes a statistical likelyhood, and any accident could potentially kill you.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    @agentx, re: If you want to redefine the term that way, then pretty much anything except some professional careers are quite easy.

    Isn’t this true? Most of what we do on a day to day basis is pretty easy…

    It goes to the heart of the argument as well; there are few people who don’t know how to pilot a vehicle well, but it seems fair number who don’t put use that knowledge.

    First, defining something that is one of the more complex mechanical skills an average person does as “quite easy” is at least confusing, and generally incorrect if words are to have relative meaning.

    What people do in general is not “easy”. If it were easy, we could get robots to do it trivially.

    The fact is the human mind is pretty good at the same action feedback patterns that we go forth and do naturally everyday. However, creating new patterns is much more difficult and it’s a big part of what constitutes intelligence. What training does is predeposit correct patterns, so you don’t have to “learn the hard way”.

    I’ll note again there isn’t that much difference between what people refer to as “behavior” and “skill” especially when it comes to safety. Pch101 is correct in that mechanics is only a part, and a large problem of safety, especially for the general public is just to STFU and pay attention.

    In any case, it should be obvious that advanced driving training would work better for people who push the envelope a bit further than those who don’t. It doesn’t have that much to with safety in the absolute sense so people should stop obfuscating what their aims are.

  • avatar

    As an autocrosser I can absolutely say that hands down, the experience of driving a car to its limits has helped me in my daily driving – I don’t think anymore, I know how to react when traction is lost or the car is entering dangerous territory.

    Most drivers don’t even know what it feels like to reach the limits of adhesion of their current set of tires.

  • avatar
    wsn

    You know, in China, the license test (the test is not done on public roads, so it’s not “road test”) is very tough.

    The student drivers will have to narrowly drive past two poles, backward. Another component of the test is to drive past a “bridge”, not a real bridge, just a pair of concrete “bridges” that’s the same width as the tire and raised 3 inches above ground.

    After the students passed the exam, they will be “released” into the wild wild Chinese public road system.

    So, I agree with the

    Teach everyone to be an expert at skid control, shoulder recovery, etc., and you reduce the collision rate by 1%. (maybe, if we ignore the idea that such training makes drivers overconfident) Get the drunks out from behind the wheel, reduce collisions by 40%.

    argument by Dynamic88

  • avatar
    TxTransplant

    Well done Mr. Stone.


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