For Sandy Springs police Sgt. Dan Nable, drivers need to keep more than just their eyes on the road.
They need to keep their minds on the road, too.
Nable believes teens and their parents need to learn the laws and what research says about distracted driving, so as the community coordinator for the Sandy Springs Police Department, he developed his own version of a parent-teen driving class. He said he felt an urge to teach and pass on information.
“The majority of my career has been in DUI enforcement, and you get really tired of knocking on people’s doors telling them their kids are dead,” Nable said, noting the No. 1 killer of teenagers in the United States is motor vehicle crashes. “What could be worse than losing a child to a preventable accident?”
The Sandy Springs driving classes are similar to ones offered through P.R.I.D.E., the state’s Parents Reducing Injuries and Driver Error class, but they’re not identical, he said. In the Sandy Springs classes, parents and teens discuss crash dynamics, occupant protection and the law.
Then, teens and parents divide up to speak with officers.
“The goal here is for parents to learn better coaching practices, and for teens to be able to talk in a safe environment about the stuff they don’t want to say in front of their parents,” Nable said.
Atlanta, Brookhaven and Chamblee offer periodic P.R.I.D.E. classes. Dunwoody has an award-winning crash avoidance training class, which is on hold pending a location to host it, Dunwoody police spokesman Timothy Fecht said.
In Georgia in 1978, all a 16-year-old had to do to get a driver’s license was show up at the Fulton County annex and drive around some cones. With a licensed driver over 21 in the passenger seat, a learner’s permit allowed a 15-year- old to drive restriction free. While some parents smile thinking back on simpler times, more cringe at the thought of letting their child behind the wheel.
Dan Reilly, a driving instructor at Nathan’s Driving School in Chamblee, agreed that when he taught his kids to drive, in the ‘80s, it didn’t take much to get a driver’s license.
“As long as they backed between the cones and didn’t run through any stop signs and traffic lights, they passed, but they didn’t really have a lot of understanding of what the laws really required,” Reilly said.
Now, Georgia has a graduated driver’s license program for drivers ages 15 to 18. You can still get a learner’s permit at 15, but an over-21 person in the passenger seat has to be “capable of exercising control over the vehicle,” Nable said. “They can’t be drunk, and they have to have a valid license. If they’re ill, it doesn’t count.”
Other requirements in the licensing process include 40 hours of practice time, six hours of which must be at night, an alcohol and drug awareness training course, and completion of a driver education course approved by the Department of Driver Services. Courses like those offered by Nathan’s Driving School help teen drivers understand the risks associated with driving, but parents aren’t involved.
“It’s a good program because the parent and the teen attend the program together,” Reilly said. “A lot of parents never went through driver’s education so there are a lot of things they don’t know.”
When parents interact with their teens in the driver education process, they learn more about how to act as a parent and as a role model for
“Let’s face it, not everybody stops before the stop sign,” Reilly said, adding that, in classes, teens will “rat their parents out” for texting while driving.
Teresa Taylor, assistant to the Chamblee city manager, agrees that the P.R.I.D.E. class offered in Chamblee helps teens.
“The benefit is to be able to reach as many teen drivers before they pick up bad habits behind the wheel,” Taylor said.
In the final part of the Sandy Springs parent-teen driving class, everyone talks about distracted driving, but more than just why drivers shouldn’t text while driving, Nable said. They talk about the dynamics of cognitive thinking and how they affect us while we’re driving, he said.
“We try to get deep into what goes on in the human brain that causes you to be a crappy driver when you’re distracted, and how distractions affect how we perceive things,” Nable said.
Sandy Springs police host a parent-teen driving class about eight times a year, on the fourth Wednesday of each month, modified for summer and holiday schedules. The next class is scheduled for Oct. 22 from 6 to 8:15 p.m. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to R.S.V.P.
A Brookhaven P.R.I.D.E. class is scheduled for Nov. 12. Email email@example.com. For information on Chamblee’s class at the Chamblee Civic Center on Nov. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m., email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on Nathan’s Driving School, email email@example.com.