ON THE ROAD TO SAFE DRIVING
Teen drivers and those newly licensed are the most at risk for serious or fatal car accidents, law enforcement officials say, but many Lake Oswego teens are taking advantage of Community School's driver's education program to learn safer driving techniques and reduce that risk.
Jo Barendse, a driver's education instructor who primarily teaches behind-the-wheel lessons, says the program is extremely valuable for all drivers. She says she was inspired to start teaching the class six years ago, when her daughter approached the age required to get a permit.
"My daughter was about 14 or 15 at the time, and I wanted to set a good example for her," Barendse says, adding that she has learned an incred-
ible amount herself by leading the class.
"In the time between when I took driver's ed and when my daughter took it, things changed so much," she says. "The cars are different, and there are way more distractions. It's about learning new habits for the new technology."
Driving strategies have also changed, Barendse says.
"One thing I learned is that you are supposed to hold the wheel different (than the traditional "10 and 2" grip). You're suppose to hold them at about 9 and 3. I had no idea," she says. "I've also learned different visual strategies — different ways to scan, different ways to use your mirrors."
Driver's ed students spend about 30 hours in class and 12 hours in specially equipped cars — six hours behind the wheel and six hours observing other drivers and becoming familiar with signs, signals and rules of the road. (Classes started June 25 and run through Aug. 3.)
But in addition to learning safe driving techniques, there's another benefit to students enrolled in the program.
"The DMV couldn't keep up with the demand of students (taking their license test), so licensed driver's education programs can do the drive test and then students just go to the DMV for the written portion," says Barendse. "For students, it takes a lot of the pressure away of going to the DMV for the drive test and driving with a stranger."
Allison Sweeney, a sophomore at Lake Oswego High School who is enrolled in driver's ed this summer, agrees. "One of the big motivators for taking driver's ed for a lot of people is that you don't have to take the test (at the DMV)," she says. "It takes some of the stress off."
Fellow LOHS sophomore Sarah Novitsky says despite the class taking up precious summer hours, "I think I'll be happy I did it later on."
Novitsky says the class also pushes her to practice driving. "I like how it makes you keep track of the hours that you're driving," she says. "I doubt I'd be driving as much as I am if I wasn't taking the class, so that's been a benefit."
As part of the class, students and their parents are required to attend a presentation by a trauma nurse. This week, Registered Nurse Shelley Campbell spoke to the current group about her experience as a pediatric trauma nurse, telling them that "I am going to be challenging the young people here to rethink driving, and I want parents to rethink their kids' driving."
Campbell shared cautionary tales about teens getting into accidents and either dying or effectively ruining their lives, and she had plenty of statistics to back her up. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16-19-year-olds than among any other age group. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16-19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash."
Crash risk is particularly high in the first month after a person gets their license. According to the CDC, "the fatal crash rate per mile driven is nearly twice as high for 16-17-year-olds as compared to 18-19-year-olds."
AAA calls the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day "the 100 Deadliest Days" because teens drive more places with more people during the summer. Driver inexperience plays a huge role, law enforcement officials say, along with distractions and speed.
Campbell's presentation wasn't a call for teens to stay off the road, though. Instead, it was a plea for teens to understand the seriousness of getting behind the wheel. But most of the driver's education process isn't as dark.
"One of my favorite parts of teaching driver's ed is that there are always eager learners. These kids are so eager to do well," says Barendse. The potential of getting their license is "highly motivating," she says. "I love seeing the joy in students' eyes when they pass the test."
For more information about Community School's driver's ed program, go to www.losdschools.org/page/1741.