U.S. Driver Training Schools – Are They Really That Bad?

March 24, 2011

When I spotted the press release from Mercedes-Benz about them launching a teen driving academy in the U.S. later this year – and then read Marty Padgett’s blog about it in FamilyCarGuide, I reminisced about my own experiences (way back when) taking driver’s training in high school back in Detroit. Back then, we called it driver's ed.

Being that my school curriculum was filled up with college prep courses and left no room for two courses that were absolutely mandatory – okay Civics was mandatory, but driver’s training I considered mandatory – that meant summer school. Ugh! Who doesn’t hate going to summer school when all your friends are off doing fun things?

Anyway, back to summer school. My own high school didn’t offer driver’s training during the summer (or anytime, as I recall). But one high school “in the city” did offer both Civics and driver’s training. The only problem? I had to take the bus to get there. Actually, it was two buses and I had to walk a mile beyond that. I was really motivated to take driver’s training, since the buses were always late – and I couldn’t miss school.

Our classroom instruction was okay, but I really enjoyed the real-time driving experiences. Yeah, it was the school parking lot and surrounding streets to begin with, but then we got to go into traffic. Pretty scary…and pretty cool.

Fast-forward to when my own children reached driving age. Some readers may recall that I mentioned I drove a Chevrolet Camaro Z28. Anyone care to guess what motivated my son and daughter to want to get their driver’s license? They excelled in driver’s training classes – which they were able to take at their own high school. It was a really big deal and we were all proud of their efforts and achievements. In fact, the driver’s training classes in Michigan schools were among the best.

That was then. What’s happening now?

Reading Marty’s article, I learned that U.S. driver training “is among the worst in the First World.” We already know how congested our highways are, and distracted driving only makes it worse. As a parent and a journalist, I applaud the efforts of Mercedes-Benz to come up with a better idea. Not only did the automaker do due diligence by perfecting their driving program in the United Kingdom, they met with U.S. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) representatives to discuss the development of curriculum that meets all state requirements.

What we do know about introduction of a better idea into the marketplace is that it spurs competition. Maybe other automakers will follow suit. Maybe driver’s training will become a viable commercial operation.

Maybe we’ll be training a new generation of teen drivers how to drive safely and responsibly on the road.

Maybe U.S. driver training schools won’t be so bad after all.

What about your own experiences learning how to drive? Are you concerned about where your own teen gets his or her driver’s training? Feel free to share your comments below.

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