My daughter turned 17 this month — old enough to drive my car but not quite ready to hit the road.
She’s opting not to drive, for now, and so it was mom who took the wheel at driver education, joining a room full of Livingston High School sophomores piloting 3-D interactive technology teaching them to be aware and avoid the dangers of driving.
Livingston High School is one of only three schools in the nation selected to pilot this new technology. In Nancy Ooms’ driver education/health classroom are 10 high-tech models — free of charge to the district — where students are testing the new equipment that helps them practice their skills and develop safe habits.
“Hopefully they will be better drivers because they have had the experience of identifying hazards as they drive the eight simulation lessons,” Ooms said.
Students say they can’t wait to get behind the wheel, not just on the road but also with the stimulation technology. “It’s making us more cautious so that when I start to drive I’ll be more aware of what could happen,” said student Kendall Schumer.
This simulation experience came to Livingston Public Schools after Ooms read an article in The New York Times (“Updates to Drivers’ Education Reflect New Dangers on the Road,” June 28, 2013). Researchers examining why the risk of motor-vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than any other age group cite studies that suggest new drivers are not more at risk because they are “careless.” Instead, the studies say, the drivers are “clueless” because of their lack of experience behind the wheel.
Wade Allen, the technical director at Systems Technology Inc., of Hawthorne, Calif., and a driver training researcher for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the New York Times he was searching for schools to participate in a pilot program financed through a CDC grant to develop a system to decrease teen deaths in car crashes.
Livingston jumped at the opportunity to upgrade driver education programs with the desktop driver training and simulation software.
Each computer is saving data as each student drives — though the students themselves are not identified. At the end of each driving simulation, students receive feedback about their driving skills.
Systems Technology researchers will take the data accumulated as students complete each drive to determine if their identification of hazards improved. The results will be reported to the CDC and the National Institute of Health and presented at technical meetings.
Like almost all states, New Jersey employs a graduated driver licensing program for new drivers to ease them into the responsibilities of driving. The idea behind the program is to ensure that novice drivers gain plenty of experience at each level before moving on to more difficult and dangerous driving situations.
The sophomores in the class I visited will be taking the state knowledge exam in early November. They’ve been practicing for that in workbooks that LHS educators created to compliment the NJ Driver’s Manual. And when they do get out on the road, they’ll have a better understanding of just what to watch out for.