Should driving safety be taught in schools?

Safety really is everything when it comes to motoring. Whizzing about at high velocities in tonne-and-a-bit projectiles has become so commonplace that we have in turn become blasé about it. And we really shouldn’t be. Try taking a step back for a moment and think about the implications of moving about by car. To coin a phrase, if we tried to start it from scratch now, it would be outlawed.
But safety, and having the right attitude to safety, can make all the difference. Take Formula One racing for example. The supposed trickle down of technology from F1 to road cars is a bit of a fallacy to be honest, but in terms of safety the effect is real. F1 was once cowboy country, when it came to safety. The cars were fast and dangerous, the circuits offered no room for error and death was once accepted as part of the sport.
Since the nineties though, F1 started to take a very, very different attitude to safety and slowly but surely F1 became safer and safer. It reached the point where, for instance, Polish racer Robert Kubica was able to have a colossal accident at the Canadian Grand Prix – one that looked more like an aircraft crash than a car shunt – and pretty much walked away. While there have been some high profile accidents and injuries of late, the fact is that F1 is now probably a safer sport in which to compete than rugby…

Driving Safety

And it’s all about the attitude. In F1 terms, it was all about constructing the cars to a design where the first priority was protecting the driver in the event of a crash. Road cars have been made to similar layouts in the past decade and a half and while it might not look like it, your average family car now has the sort of load-paths and crash structures that would have passed scrutineering for an international rally not long ago. Airbags, crush zones, stability control, traction control, pre-tensioned seatbelts – all have contributed to making life on the road safer and safer.
For all the technological advancements though, the most important component in any car is the mushy stuff between the driver’s ears – get the settings in that right and you make all the other aspects gel together so much better.
Which is why it’s important to start with kids. Driving and motoring has become such an integral part of our lives, and will remain that way for such a long time to come, that surely instilling the right attitude to road safety in people who haven’t even got a licence yet is the only way to set things up right? And it’s not a question of lecturing, hectoring or scaring either. It’s all about getting across the message that driving is neither a right nor a chore, but instead a skill to be learned, honed and perfected as the years roll on.
Toyota, which is now the biggest car maker on the planet, seems to have the right idea where this is concerned and has kicked off a campaign in the US to get teens to monitor their parents’ driving habits and to get involved in driving and road safety from an early age.
TeenDrive365 builds on the programs and resources Toyota has offered for over a decade to help families ‘go safely.’ Since its launch last November, millions of people have engaged with the online and in-person resources that make up the TeenDrive365 program—over 1-million people have visited the web site, more than 22,000 people have taken Toyota’s safe driving pledge and over 10,000 people have interacted with TeenDrive365 at events around the country.

Parents as role models

Now approaching year two, TeenDrive365 introduces new resources that further emphasise the impact parents have on their teen’s driving and help parents put that knowledge into action. The focus on parents as role models is based on research from a national study from Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Centre (CSRC) and UMTRI. The study found a significant correlation between how parents and their teens drive, suggesting that parents are the biggest influence on how a teen will behave behind the wheel.
“As a mother of a teenager, I often remind myself that the things I do behind the wheel go a long way in setting a powerful example,” said Dr. Tina Sayer, Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center principal engineer and teen safe driving expert. “Experience and education certainly help your teen become a safe and more confident driver, but our research shows us that the biggest factor in how teens will drive is their parents.”
top tips for driving safetyThe programme includes an online commercial coined “Parents Who Drive Bad Anonymous”, which takes a humorous look at parents’ vices behind the wheel as they commit to being safer drivers for their teens; the “Masters of the Wheel” video series, featuring professional race car driving legends discussing the influential role parents play in teen driver safety; an enhanced in-car distracted driving simulator with Oculus Rift virtual reality technology, which offers parents and teens the latest, most realistic virtual experience around how common distractions impact their ability to remain safe on the road. This marks the first time the Oculus Rift technology is being used in a driving simulator to educate people about distracted driving. The simulator, which is staged behind the wheel of a real Toyota vehicle, will be available at US auto shows beginning at the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 21; an online pledge for parents to promise to set the best example behind the wheel for their teens; and more ways parents and teens can share important safety tips on social media, including animated GIFs and picture-based riddles, which make learning about driving safety fun while informative.
“We are thrilled that parents and teens responded so positively to TeenDrive365,” said Marjorie Schussel, Corporate Marketing Director for Toyota. “Over the last year, we learned that once parents realise that they are the key to how their teen will drive, they crave support and guidance on how to be better role models. Our new resources are designed with this in mind and empower parents to be the drivers they want their teens to be so they can help keep them safe.”
Why not try something similar here? As much as we parents are an influence on our children, so too can they be an influence on us. And better yet, why not at long last start to include driving and road safety education on the Leaving Cert curriculum? Surely the time has come to tell Irish school kids that being safe on the road is at least as important as racking up the CAO points.