Western New York Teenagers Don’t Get The Brakes

23 May 2005

A pilot survey in a Western New York high school reveals some dangerous beliefs about driver safety but also shows that the students do surprisingly well in some aspects.

“We believe this initial survey was a great way not only to let us discover what topics the students need to cover in more detail to protect themselves better when they are driving but, just as importantly, it also got them talking about a vital subject that sadly has been seen for generations as either boring or irrelevant,” said Eddie Wren, executive director of the Clarence-based, not-for-profit organization Drive and Stay Alive, Inc.

“Part of our work at DSA is aimed at creating a free talks program for over 140 high schools in the five counties of the entire Niagara Frontier Region,” he said.

“But importantly, the talks will not be based on variations of the same old, same old, because the other major function we perform at DSA is maintaining the world’s largest online ‘International Road Safety News’ service. And together with my own previous experience of working with young drivers when I was a police officer specializing in this subject allows us to use global best practices as the bedrock of what we tell young people. In other words, we talk about the most proven and safest techniques, sometimes contradict traditional but outdated beliefs.”

Those who have fought for years to highlight the dangers caused by drunk driving will be pleased to know that 73 percent of the students surveyed already knew that the blood-alcohol limit in New York State is 0.08% BAC, but even more impressive, said Wren, is the fact that when given options for what the safest rule of thumb should be for drinking and driving, over 88 percent of the students chose ‘no alcohol at all’ for drivers.

“The most worrying answers from the survey related to following safe distances and stopping distances,” said Wren.

“When we asked the students how far they would need to drive behind another vehicle, at 50mph on a wet road, to remain safe, a frightening 80 percent guessed at a distance that was one-half or even less than one-half of the correct answer.

“A major feature in this dangerous scenario is that people still refer to car lengths as a method of judging distance and that always was an inaccurate and unusable rule anyway,” he said.

“Young people must be taught how to use ‘the two-second, four-second, ten-second rule accurately’ and when to apply each option. And they need to be shown how to understand speed in feet-per-second and how that relates to stopping distances in an emergency.”

Questions about signaling revealed another major flaw in the youngsters’ beliefs. But again, Wren blamed incorrect information – this time from the state – rather than the youngsters themselves.

“The New York State Driver’s Manual tells us that we should signal 100 feet before an exit ramp or a lane change on a highway,” said Wren. “But who wrote that in the first place?

“A vehicle traveling at 65-70mph on a highway is doing 95-103 feet-per-second, so what is the possible use of giving a signal for precisely one second before a lane change? Isn’t that one of the things that makes many drivers angry? Are other people giving inadequate signals? Yet New York is not alone in providing precisely that advice in its manual.

“At DSA, we tell the kids to let a signal flash a minimum of 4-6 times before starting the relevant maneuver. But they must also be taught how to use their signals about other risk variables.”

According to Wren, the advice about using signals on highways is not the only flaw in specific state driver’s manuals.

“New York is also one of the states that tell drivers that if they skid in an automatic transmission vehicle, they should ‘shift to neutral,’ but that advice is inexcusable.

“I’ve even discussed this with several state troopers,” said Wren. “And they were as stunned as I had been when I first saw this potentially deadly recommendation.

“Two important things come of this,” he said. “Firstly, at the most basic level, young people should be told that if ever they skid, it is vital that they keep both hands on the wheel and not start messing about trying to select neutral.

“Secondly, to many people’s surprise, research in various countries has shown that it is dangerous and counterproductive to take young people on a skid pad to teach them how to get out of a skid because that is now known merely to reinforce a teenager’s natural attitude that he or she is immortal, or somehow different, and ‘it won’t happen to me!’ The research shows that young people who get skid pad training have more crashes afterward and crashes of greater severity than their peers who don’t. It is important to teach them how to avoid the danger of having a skid, not how to get out of one when a potentially lethal situation has already started. Skids are like serious crime: prevention is vastly better than cure.”

The survey revealed several other dangerous, mistaken beliefs, but it was not all bad.

“Over 90 percent of the students realized that the drivers who generally cause the most danger, and are themselves in the most danger on the roads, are those under 25,” said Wren. “But even though the kids grasp this fundamental situation, many of them are shocked when we explain the figures.”

Wren’s background for this work is comprehensive and possibly unique.

He served many years as a traffic patrol police officer in his native England, where a minimum of nine weeks’ training are needed just for the qualifications he obtained in the police advanced driving and advanced patrol motorcycling. Unlike the USA, the vast majority of every police driver-training course in Britain is undertaken at high speeds among ordinary traffic on public roads rather than on private circuits so that public safety may be taught in extreme detail and will always remain the paramount factor. While in the police, Wren was handpicked to give talks at senior schools, colleges, and apprentice training centers about safe driving and safe motorcycling. He gave several hundred such discussions.

Following his police service, Wren became a Department of Transport Approved Driving Instructor. By invitation, he later became the managing director of a UK advanced driver training company that taught civilians how to use the same remarkably safe driving standards as the traffic police.

Apart from his work for Drive and Stay Alive in America, Wren is also the vice president and director of policy for the newly established Advanced Drivers of America, Inc.

“We would greatly welcome invitations from any high schools, colleges, or youth groups for us to do talks for their students,” said Wren. “But as we are determined to keep these talks free for the schools, we also urgently need financial support from businesses and the community to make this possible.”

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Notes for editors:

  1. The international credibility of Drive and Stay Alive, Inc., among road safety experts worldwide, may best be gauged by the fact that its website has:
    1. Won the “Best International Traffic Safety Website” award of the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals [CARSP] (June 2004)
    2. This resulted in DSA becoming the only organization in America to be accepted as a signatory to the European Road Safety Charter (though this is specifically for DSA’s global contribution, not for any Euro-centric aspect)
    3. Been posted on the following organization’s own web ‘links’ pages:
  1. The NCSA (NHTSA)  www.nhtsa-tsis.net/trd/pages/Links.htm
  2. The United Nations ECE Road Safety website  www.unece.org/trans/roadsafe/rslin.html

iii.      The European Council of Ministers of Transport

  1. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  2. Road safety organizations in at least 20 countries
  1. Wren was also a selected speaker at last year’s New York State Highway Safety Conference, in Binghamton, on international variations in road safety ideas and techniques.

Contact Details:

Contact:  Eddie Wren

Phone:    [++1] 716-632-5502