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Should My Kid Take a Driver’s Ed Class if they Haven’t Had it in School?

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Nancy Lustenberger

That’s a question I have been asked soooo many times over the years. Parents of aspiring new drivers want to know whether or not they should sign their kid(s) up for one of my 30 Hour Driver Theory Courses when their school does not offer a driver’s ed course. Astonishingly, in New Jersey there is no law that requires anyone to take a driver’s ed courseto get your learners permit or even your license.  So the simple answer is NO…you don’t HAVE to take a driver education class, but that is never the question…the question is SHOULD you take a driver education class.

Well, I have answered the SHOULD question pretty much the same way every time for the past 30+ years.  First, it was based on my instinct as a driver education teacher, but then it became based on proof!  It became based on my experience teaching, coaching and observing thousands of teenagers that have and have not taken a driver ed theory course.  In fact, over time, I realized that there was a large gap between the abilities of different students when they got behind the wheel.

Some of the students that we’ve taken behind the wheel have been amazing!  They get in the car, we review the controls, we talk for a minute…and as we start out, everyone is calm. While we’re actively coaching and teaching, we find that it’s easy – and the student really “gets it”.  Other students that get in the car are not quite as ready.  It takes significantly more time to help them understand what’s happening on the road.  We’re constantly correcting and we’re using the instructor brake a lot more!  In fact, at the end of the lesson, we realize that it was a little more stressful.

I began to wonder, is it the fact that some students take a driver education class in high school and some don’t that makes the difference?  Was it that the students that had driver education in school were better and the others were at a huge disadvantage?  I really wanted to know – so I spent some time analyzing and I learned something very important.

Ever since I became certified to teach driver education in the classroom and behind the wheel in 1980, one thing remained absolutely constant.  Driving is a skill and it requires a lot of practice to become good at it. The bare minimum training just doesn’t cut it, especially in something as potentially dangerous as driving! This is why I hold a high training standard for myself and my driving instructors at FNL Driving School. I’m constantly seeking out the very latest in driver training tools and stay heavily involved in the leading associations and committees that deal with driver education, such as: the Driving School Association of New Jersey, Share the Keys, NJAHPERD, Drive Safer and others.

Anyway, here’s what I learned…it was not whether or not they had a driver education class in high school…it was whether or not they were taught how to drive a car in the class or how to pass the test!

Several high school driver education classes teach to the test – they teach how to pass the Written Knowledge Test, which is a big mistake.  Of course, the students need to learn the rules of the road, and understand the laws, but that’s something that can be read from the driver manual outside of the classroom, and then discussed and APPLIED inside the classroom.  What students need is to learn how to drive – what to look for, how to handle it, and why.  They need the mental training, the vocabulary and the proper attitude to be a safe driver.

As a driver education teacher, I ensure that the students that go through my theory class come out prepared to handle and identify potential hazards, learn a special vocabulary and have language to identify and discuss what’s happening on the road, and understand that it all begins with courtesy.  I pride myself on helping students understand the important concepts by applying them to everyday scenarios that they’ll encounter when driving. This way, not only will they better understand the theory, but they’ll be able to use it when they’re behind the wheel.  Incidentally, they’ll also be more likely to pass the Written Knowledge Test at the end of the class!

By the end of my 30 hour theory course, I know that the students that I’ve worked with take driving much more seriously than when they came in.

If you were to ask a former FNL student which was their most memorable moment in class, it would likely be either the subject of “visual perceptions” or one of the many times over the years that I have brought in guest speakers. I introduce the importance of visual perceptions by using visual aids and classic optical illusion tricks. When first learning how to drive it becomes especially difficult to deal with negotiating and judging distances between your car and others, as well as effectively and confidently using your side and rear view mirrors, and checking your blind spot. Going into the theory of WHY it is challenging to deal with these scenarios helps students better deal with HOW to handle those situations.

My guest speakers range from police officers that discuss drinking and driving and other procedures such as “what to do when you get pulled over” to high-performance driving instructors that speak about vehicle dynamics and hazard avoidance. Bringing in speakers allows my students to get a different perspective and helpful real-world tips and best practices. It is consistently a crowd favorite.

After students complete the 30 Hour Driver Theory Course, I have the unique pleasure of taking students for the 6 hour behind the wheel training course to get their learners permit. So you better believe that by the time they’re done with me, they have a good foundation of how to drive safely and confidently! This is simply the way I’ve always viewed driver education. I hope after reading this you can share in this feeling with me.

So – yes…your kid SHOULD take a driver education course– but make sure that whoever teaches it or wherever you take it, the curriculum doesn’t simply teach to the test.  I have a class coming up in June at Dwight-Englewood School.  If you’re interested in learning more about this class, or have any questions, you can find out more information by clicking here, or please call me at (201) 599-1513 or email me at fnl@fnldrivingschool.com. I’d love to hear from you.


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