Extreme driving classes may bring false sense of safety

Driver's education classes are designed to teach new drivers the basics: parallel parking, speed, merging, safe following distances and road signs -- things drivers will encounter every day. But what about extreme circumstances like skidding, sudden braking or driving in emergency situations?
A number of driving schools across the country are offering extreme driving classes designed to teach drivers how to successfully handle emergency situations. Taught in parking lots or even on race tracks, extreme driving courses focus on behind-the-wheel training and drills to help students get used to dangerous situations.
The National Driving Safety Institute, for example, offers a course called the XCD Driver Improvement Program. Founded by race car drivers, the program focuses on the following areas:

  • Threshold braking: This technique that allows a driver to brake at the last second and, hopefully, avoid an accident.
  • Skidding: Students learn what to do (and what not to do) if a car starts skidding.
  • Reaction drills: Students have to react to unexpected obstacles on the course.
  • Distraction drills: Students text on their phones while driving through an obstacle course -- and learn firsthand how distracted driving dulls reaction time.

Such programs are aimed at teen drivers who lack the experience that older drivers have. High-performance driving school Bondurant, for example, describes its Teen Driving Program as a way for teens to "develop confidence, awareness of their surroundings, and a proper foundation to being a safer driver."
While the classes may sound like a good idea, some feel they actually do more harm than good. According to Drive and Stay Alive (DSA), a nonprofit driving safety organization based in New York, extreme driving courses actually might increase the risk of crashes for the following reasons:

  • Overconfidence. Extreme driving courses may give students a false sense of security that makes them less proactive about avoiding accidents. They may be more confident in taking risks, thinking they can handle the consequences.
  • Insufficient training to make a difference. Many of these courses are only several weeks long; some are day-long crash courses. While this may provide a good overview of certain driving conditions, it's often not enough training to effectively navigate dangerous conditions.

The schools themselves argue that their courses require very little classroom time and instead offer practical, real-life applications so students can immediately practice. Bondurant's website, for example, points out that students spend 80 percent of their time on the course learning skid-control, accident-avoidance and braking techniques.

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