Through a new study by researchers at the Western Transportation Institute based at MSU, about 175 Montana teen drivers took a defensive-driving course this summer. Behind-the-wheel instruction included use of the Skid Monster, a device attached to a back tire to make the vehicle skid. Driving instructors show the teens safe driving techniques and how to handle a skidding vehicle.
The researchers will then track the teens' driving records for four years and compare the records to those of 175 Central Montana teen drivers who did not take the driving course.
"New teen-aged drivers have the highest accident rates of any group of drivers," said WTI researcher Laura Stanley. "The study's purpose is to better understand how to equip young drivers with the proper elements of experience before they actually encounter a need for it in an emergency situation."
National studies show that 16-year-old drivers are involved in nearly 10 times the number of fatal car accidents as drivers aged 30 to 60 years. Sixteen-year-old drivers have approximately 18 fatal car accidents per 100 million vehicle miles whereas 30-year-old drivers have two fatal accidents per 100 million vehicle miles.
"We expect to find that young drivers who take the workshop have fewer traffic violations and fewer accidents than the study group that did not take the course," said Mike Kelly, WTI researcher. "And we expect to find the biggest difference in their first year of driving."
The drivers were randomly chosen from Central Montana teens who recently graduated from drivers' education and received their licenses. The course offers more advanced training than basic drivers' education classes, and it is designed for younger drivers who don't have the experience of seasoned drivers. The emphasis is on recognizing and reacting to hazards before they turn into accidents.
David Larson, a 15-year-old sophomore at Billings West High School, participated in the one-day course because, he says, he wanted to learn defensive driving.
"I learned how to control the car if I drive off the road," said Larson who noted that his dad had taken the same course as a firefighter. "I think that everyone should take the course."
Larson explained that the most important thing he learned is the "four-second rule."
"You keep four seconds between you and the car in front of you," he said. "That's the time it takes to safely go around another car if it blows a tire or there's something in the road. It's all good stuff to know."
The workshops were free to the teens as part of the $300,000 study funded by the Montana Department of Transportation. The Office of Public Instruction provided staff. Participants were bused from Billings, Great Falls and surrounding communities to the Montana DRIVE (Driver in Vehicle Education) facility in Lewistown, which has classrooms and a three-mile driving track.
"Using specific equipment on the vehicles like the skid monster gives the young drivers lots of experience on what feels like slippery, icy or gravel roads," said Kelly.
Kelly said that OPI is planning to make it a permanent class beginning next summer. It will be offered for about $250. OPI can be contacted at http://www.opi.state.mt.us/DRIVE/ADEP.html.
Contact Michael Kelly, email@example.com or 994-7377 or Laura Stanley, LStanley@coe.montana.edu or 994-7405