Indianapolis drivers ed courses help teens stay safe
Kyle Lang practices driving with veteran driving teacher Don Pope. (Photo by Brandon Smith)
Just imagining their teen taking over the wheel of their car may drive some parents to distraction, especially in the age of the smartphone.
But because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks vehicle crashes as the leading killer of 16- to 20-yearolds, the job of teaching them the rules of the road is far too critical to completely outsource, say highly rated Indianapolis driver education providers.
“It’s a partnership,” says Robin Rabanus, owner of highly rated A+ Driving Academy, with locations in Fishers, Zionsville and Lebanon. “This is not something where you bring your child to us and I wave a magic wand and suddenly they can drive well. We have to work together to make sure they’re safe.”
Kim Lucas, a westside Indianapolis resident, says she happily supplements her son’s professional driver’s ed program with supervised practice drives, and she’s grateful Indiana adopted the stricter Graduated Driver’s License requirements in 2009.
Late last year, her son, Kyle Lang, now 16 and a Ben Davis High School junior, completed the driver’s ed program his school offers through highly rated Central Indiana Educational Service Center. Kyle took the 30-hour classroom portion online and completed six hours of one-on-one driving instruction with retired teacher Don Pope.
Leave it to a pro
Pope says he understands why parents choose to leave at least the early stages of driver’s education to professional who’s equipped with a passenger-side brake in the car.
“For some kids, it’s a pretty scary situation the first couple of times they drive,” Pope says. “If they’ve never been behind the wheel at all, I would think you would not want to be in the car with them.”
Lucas says she’s impressed with Kyle’s driving abilities, but she’s a stickler when it comes to making sure he records his drives on the log he’ll present to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles when he applies for his license this spring.“I put it above the visor and he has to check it whenever he drives,” she says.
Lucas has extra reason to worry about her young driver. Two thirds of teens who die in automobile crashes are male, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention and the Committee on Adolescence.
And while a good driver’s ed program offers a chance to learn basic skills, the typical 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours on the road — the minimum mandated by Indiana — are not enough to turn an inexperienced driver into a proficient one, says Rabanus, who also serves as president of the Indiana Driver Education Association.
She and other experts say a combination of parental and professional instruction may be the best approach. In a recent online poll, 51 percent of Angie’s List members say they taught their children to drive, 28 percent sent their teens to school-based driver’s education, 19 percent sent theirs to a private driving school and 2 percent asked a friend or relative.
“Driver education is good for the basics, but it can’t teach experience,” says Dr. Joseph O’Neil, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at highly rated Indiana University School of Medicine.
“Eight teens die every day from driving,” he says. “Per mile driven, teens are four times more likely than adults to be killed.
“I’m a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, and driving is a leading cause of disability in young people,” adds O’Neil, who’s made a special study of teen driving. “I’d like to work myself out of a job.”
Don Gross, president of highly rated AA Indiana Driving School, with training centers in Indianapolis, Carmel and Noblesville, acknowledges the difficulty many parents face in trying to stay calm as they teach their inexperienced teen to drive.
“There are all these feelings involved. It can become very personal with a parent and a child,” says Gross, vice president of INDEA. “Many times, parents think it’s easier for us to work with the student. We’ve got a distance there. The teens don’t have to go home with us.”
When parents balk at taking young drivers out for practice sessions, however, Gross says he challenges them. “We say: ‘Why does your child have to practice on the piano, or for a sport? Driving is a skill; skills take practice. Driver’s ed is a starting point.’”
Driver’s education is not required in Indiana — about half of young Hoosiers don’t take it, O’Neil says. He also points out that research fails to show that driver’s education reduces the crash risk for young drivers.
But he applauds Indiana’s adoption of the GDL, which requires 50 hours of adult-supervised drives for novice drivers, restricts night driving and peer passengers — a major distraction and cause of accidents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics — and bans cellphone use.
The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute found that nationally and statewide, GDL restrictions led to about 7 percent annual decreases in teens killed in automobile crashes.
Parents need to do homework, too
Parents need to do their homework before choosing a driver’s ed program, say highly rated service providers.
“Go to the school and look around,” says Mark Canull, owner of highly rated Coach’s Driver Education in Avon. “Look at the cars. You want your child in a safe, clean car. You want to make sure the instructors are people you want to leave your kids with.”
Rabanus advises parents to choose a program with structured drives that introduce challenges and build upon previous skills. Also, be sure the program doesn’t rush students, since practice is essential. “We like to have at least a week between drives, so they can work on skills,” she says.
When searching for the best driver’s education program, consumers also should check for licensing and proof of insurance. Indiana law requires driver’s education instructors to obtain a special license after completing nine college credit hours of training.
Once a teen gets a driver’s license, he or she may learn that completing a driver’s ed course doesn’t necessarily result in a discounted insurance premium, says Jon Zarich of the Insurance Institute of Indiana. However, some companies, including State Farm, offer their own programs to encourage parent supervision.
Angie’s List member Mary D. Kraeszig of Zionsville says she liked State Farm’s Steer Clear program, which gave her daughter, Katie, a lower premium once she completed it. Like the GDL rules, Steer Clear requires teens to log driving times.
“Once when I was driving with her, she had to take an evasive move because some idiot crossed the center line,” says Kraeszig, who supervised Katie’s driving. “She immediately swerved correctly. I was so proud of her.”
While Kraeszig admits she was tired of chauffeuring Katie around, she says she wasn’t quite as excited as her daughter when it came time to turn her loose behind the wheel. “It’s a mixed blessing when your kid’s got wheels, especially now that the weather’s ugly,” she says.
Indiana’s Graduated Driver’s Licensing law
Here are the rules for licenses for young drivers:
- At age 15, a teen can obtain a learner’s permit by providing proof of enrollment in an approved driver’s education program, presenting identification and passing a vision test at a license branch.
- At 16, a teen who doesn’t take driver’s ed can get a learner’s permit after providing ID, and passing a written exam and vision test at a license branch.
- Teens must hold the learner’s permit for 180 days. They must log at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice, including 10 nighttime hours, with a licensed instructor or a licensed driver 25 years of age or older who is seated in the front passenger seat. The log sheet, signed by a parent or guardian, must be turned in to the license branch when the teen applies for a license.
- If the teen completes a driver’s education course, they may apply for a license at age 16 years and 180 days. With no driver’s ed course, they must wait until they are 16 years and 270 days. The license is considered probationary until the teen turns 18.
- Texting is illegal for all drivers, but state law prohibits drivers under age 18 from using cellphones while driving. Indiana law also restricts passengers and night driving for the fi rst 180 days after a young driver is licensed.