Mom and son put Driver-Zed to the test
In addition to providing good practice for teens learning to drive, the Driver-Zed risk-management training program can prove a valuable refresher course for drivers of all ages and experience levels.
Starting next fall, Driver-Zed will be a key component in the regional high school's driver's education training. Martha's Vineyard Drive for Life successfully lobbied to get driver's education back into the curriculum last year. Tom and Barbara Furino of Edgartown founded the non-profit organization, dedicated to improving driver's education and making it accessible to all teens, in 2004.
Mr. Furino discovered the Driver-Zed program through the American Automobile Association's (AAA) website while researching possible course materials for the high school online.
"Driver-Zed is the most important interactive program we have right now - we can throw everything at them, so the kids can see these dangerous situations," he said. "It makes you use your mirrors and be aware of what's around you. I don't think there's anything better out there yet."
At Mr. Furino's recommendation, I volunteered to give Driver-Zed a test drive, as did Times intern Alex Bell, a 17-year-old high school student who recently completed driver's education. I suddenly felt old when I realized I have been driving 21 years more than Alex has been alive. My 25-year-old son Brien, who took driver's ed nine years ago, also agreed to give Driver-Zed a try while home for a visit a few weeks ago.
Knowing my computer savvy is limited to being able to turn one on and use it for word-processing and the Internet, Brien installed Driver-Zed on my laptop for me, which he said was quite easy. He tried it out first by himself, and then sat down beside me while I gave it a spin - which I quickly realized was a mistake. (A warning to parents: Do not try this for the first time in the presence of your grown children unless you are immune to snickering.)
After going through the introduction, I confidently clicked on "highway driving." The problem was, I became so mesmerized by the realistic driving scenes that I forgot to react like a driver and to pay attention to detail.
When the program asked what cars were behind me in the rearview mirror, I drew a blank. Brien, however, knew right away. "Two cars on your left and a truck behind you," he prompted - and he was right.
How fast were you going, the program asked at one point. I made a guess - 25 mph? Wrong again. How much gas do you have? While I was looking at my mirrors and scanning everything around me, I forgot to notice. Brien did, though.
I re-tried one driving scenario three times, because I couldn't get the timing right and the screen kept flashing "Risky!" After I flat-out collided with someone, my son looked at me with a grin and said, "Mom, I'm not sure if I want you driving me to Vineyard Haven to catch the ferry tomorrow." (One-and-a-half miles from our house.)
There definitely is a generation gap in skill and coordination when a Mom whose video game experience started with Ping-Pong on a television set is pitted against someone who can text-message at the speed of light.
However, despite the discrepancy in our scores, we both agreed the emphasis placed on constantly checking the car's mirrors, being aware of traffic around the car at all times, and keeping an eye on the control panel was valuable for drivers of all ages and experience levels.
Despite the ribbing, I did manage to drive Brien to Vineyard Haven the next day without incident. There were two cars behind me, I averaged a speed of 30 mph, and the gas tank was half-full, by the way.