Reader Question: How to Build a Better Driver?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Zane asks: I read your article earlier about automated cars and between the article itself and the comments section, was wondering how many people were taught young and were better than the Drivers Ed instructors?

Curious, as I got a sense that the government can’t get all the cars off the road (especially in Red states, where I’ll hopefully end up), how to raise the kids I don’t even have yet to be better drives than I was then and most adults will be.  I read an article somewhere where a guy got his kid into go kart racing, and wonder if that would be a recommended route to go, and what other advice you could share. Especially plan on teaching them how to drive a manual, as I’ve said before that I plan on getting a Wrangler and keeping it forever, hopefully long enough for them as teenagers to fight over stealing it to so they could go out with their friends with it.

My reply: Well, speaking just for me – and members of my generation, which began driving in the ’80s – almost all of us had a full adult driver’s license at 16 (often on the day we turned 16) and had begun legally driving as 15-year-olds. So on the face of it, we were driving much sooner than almost all kids do today and than all kids legally do.

I think we are almost all of us better drivers, too – and not just because we started sooner. We – most of us – learned to drive using cars that were much more difficult to drive than today’s cars. Many had not just manual transmissions, but manual transmissions without hydraulic clutch assist; threes on the tree – and so on. It took more concentration – and so, ultimately, built up higher skill – to drive even a VW Beetle from the ’70s than any current car a teen is likely to learn to drive in today.

Also, we were encouraged to be more active as drivers; this “defensive driving” stuff – which is really passive driving stuff – was only just coming online and we all snickered at it.

There was an active car culture; many of the boys (me among them) were hot rodders and street racers. Sure, we drove fast – and without doubt sometimes did foolish things, as teenagers will always do. But we were less fearful, more audacious; less beaten into submission to authority than today’s kids – who generally seem to accept it without much question.

I think Kart racing is a top-drawer idea; also motocrossing. Both impart skills that pay huge dividends in real world driving. I would also – if I had a kid of my own – have him (or her) tackle a high-performance driving school after about two years or so of building up the basic skills. Some people think that encourages speed lust and recklessness. I take the opposite view. A high-performance driving course (e.g., Bondurant) teaches the driver to control his car far more effectively than the average mope and that is a huge safety (as opposed to saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety) advantage.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Back when the earth was cooling and I was a kid I had never thought about not driving at any age. If there was work to be done, and there always was, regardless if you were 12 or 112, somebody had to do it. After a while adults knew it was better for you to have a pickup with you in some remote place than you having an emergency or just the tools and the pickup than have you wait hours for someone to come get you. That doesn’t work well with a snake bite, getting burned, broken limbs or being held prisoner by a mad mama cow, one thing I had to wait for rescue from.

    We didn’t realize we were a small minority till some kid your age shows up at the grandparents or in laws for the summer and they don’t know how to drive or do much of anything. Our chores not only amazed them but frequently terrified them.
    My dad bought a DL at the drugstore when he was 10 so he could help drive the grocery truck to Odessa, a 175 mile trip with little pavement. My grandfather wasn’t much of a driver but was one hell of a muleskinner and had a way with animals few possess. He never lost his temper and could do just about anything with any animal on the farm.

    People younger than my father relied on a hotshot but my grandfather never touched one.

    My point being I was lucky as hell to grow up as a hick in a place where people rarely used curse words, had violent arguments or stole.

    We all grew up breaking in on a tractor and pickups and Jeeps. A lot of us could do things with an automobile our driving instructors were clueless about.

    Get down a bad muddy road and passengers all bailed out to add weight over the drive axle and jump up and down when you were stuck.

    More than once I put a girl behind the wheel while I jumped up and down in the bed to get moving again. In a car everyone would pile into the trunk and jump as much as we could.

    We knew how to put on tire chains and how to drive a tractor we knew about and how to chain up and tow and knew to take that tractor back to where we got it.

    These are skills completely unknown to kids now, even some of the rural kids.
    They just call somebody with their cellphone for a more capable 4wd than they’re driving and revert to a tractor when both pickups are stuck. Common sense has taken a back seat to nannyism.

  2. Eric,

    I agree with your recommendations for karting and other motorsports for kids. It develops skills that will keep them out of trouble. Also, the high performance schools after a few years of driving are amazing.

    The downside to both, however, is cost. But, a decent alternative would be to send your teen (or grand-teen) to one of the emerging advanced teen schools. Here are links to three (full disclosure: I teach with B.R.A.K.E.S. and have taught with Street Survival and I sent both my kids to Mid-Ohio when they were young)

    From a cost standpoint B.R.A.K.E.S. is free. Street Survival about $75. Mid-Ohio $375 and up.

    Research done by B.R.A.K.E.S has shown a 64% reduction in crashes by students who have taken their course. How many lives might this be? You can’t say for certain but, it has to be some. No one ever died in a crash they didn’t have. In the case of our daughter, soon after taking the M-O course she was bumper tapped several times by a semi on the interstate in the rain at night coming home from work. She was able to control the car and pull over safely…the trucker said he never saw her black Civic. A few weeks ago she blessed our family with a fourth grandson. These schools, whichever you choose, can be lifesavers.

    • Now I want for fake courses for myself, improve my skills

      As for the kids I don’t have, definitely making it a point to take them to all of these courses


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