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A view from the driver’s seat

A Driver’s education student gives a first-hand perspective of the benefits of the program

by: RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Trevor Rasmussen concentrates on the road, as he drives his parent’s car to an event. Rasmussen completed the course during the past year and believes all students should take Driver’s education.

Although the reviews on driver’s education are mixed and varied, the bottom line is how it impacts young drivers and what the benefits are from the “driver’s seat.”
   Although there are lots of statistics on crashes related to new drivers from 15 to 18 years of age, readers rarely hear from the students themselves, and what they derive from the course.
   Trevor Rasmussen, a sophomore at Crook County High School, just completed the Driver’s Education program offered at his school.
   “It gives you a lot of driving time and experience. A lot of kids don’t really get a whole lot before they go and get their license. In the class, you get a lot of driving time and viewing time to watch other people drive.”
   He said he also learned traffic laws during the course as well.
   “I learned a lot of driving techniques, and a whole bunch of different driving situations,” said Trevor. “I learned the push-pull steering method; I learned a whole bunch of different ways to park, a lot of ways to turn safely, and a lot of ways to enter intersections.”
   He emphasized that they learned that texting is one of the most unsafe things they can do as a driver.
   “They say it is the highest death rate (of driving) these days — it even surpasses alcohol and drunk driving,” he said. “It’s just horrible — you never want to do it while you are driving, and it’s not a good thing.”
   Trevor said they watched a lot of video clips from instances where young drivers crashed as a result of texting while driving.
   He added that there a lot of opportunities to practice the things they learned in the program. Trevor especially liked the fact that the program cuts the required driving time for new drivers in half.
   “I feel like I’m a lot better (driver) than I was before. I have a lot more confidence, like in driving in town. When I first started, sometimes I wouldn’t know exactly what to do in certain spots, and since you get a lot of driving time and they (trainers) really help you out a lot, I have a lot more confidence.”
   Driver’s education has become a standard for new drivers in Oregon since the 1970s, and the program was overhauled approximately one decade ago. Rick Nickell, who teaches for the High Desert Drivers Education program, said that the program was previously managed by the Oregon Department of Education, and has since been handled by the Department of Transportation. Due to lack of funding, it is highly encouraged, but not paid for by Oregon schools.
   There are still scholarships available to help fund the program for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, said Nickell. There are other incentives, depending on the driver’s insurance company, such as a good student discount, a discount for completing the course — in addition to cutting down the required driving time by half.
   “I think most kids come in thinking they know a lot about driving because they have watched someone drive since they were put into the car seat for the first time,” said Nickell. “So they think they have a pretty good handle on it. Then it’s fun to watch afterwards, of, ‘What did you learn?’ There is so much that they gain from it that they had no idea, because they had watched someone do it.”’
   He remarked that parents also unknowingly teach their kids bad habits or lack the tools to teach the depth of information that students can get from driver’s education classes.
   “I can get in the car (with a new student), and within 15 minutes, I know how their parent drives, because they (parents) are a role model,” noted Nickell.
   Local resident Greg Munn, a parent of two students who have gone through the program, said that his kids gained not just good driving skills, but patience with other drivers and situations.
   He added that although the insurance discounts his family gets are a big benefit, his main concern is safety. He also believes that having an expert teach his kids driving skills is much more beneficial than what he could provide to them as a more experienced driver and parent.
   “They get way more hours of actual instruction and formal practice than I could probably ever give them,” said Munn.
   Trevor’s mother Cheri commented that the driver’s education trainers go through a much more extensive program than in the “olden days,” when she went through the program through public education.
   “The program has improved since we were young drivers,” said Cheri. “The guest speakers and topics covered in the book portion of the program are far superior to what we received. For example, one of the lessons was on driving impaired.”
   She explained that Trevor and his class wore a pair of eye goggles that impaired their vision greatly. It was supposed to correlate to what a driver sees when over the legal limit of alcohol.
   “No matter how well parents teach their children to drive, an outside resource who has been trained gives a student a different perspective,” added Cheri. “The student also gets to drive a different car.”
   She said that the trainers taught Trevor in much greater detail, including such things as trail braking, parallel parking, and merging traffic practice.
   “He thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and he also loves to point out all of the bad habits his mother has developed over the years,” remarked Cheri. “Since I am more conscious of them, it has improved my driving also.”
   Trevor concluded that he would rather be on the road or in a car with someone who has been through the class.
   “I think it is something that should be stressed upon to take, and it’s really helpful,” said Trevor. “You become a better driver when you take the course.”