We must close gap in teen driver education

Pete Selleck

Car accidents are the No. 1 cause of teen deaths in America, with more than 5,000 lives tragically lost each year. New research on driver’s education and training shows a gap in teen drivers’ knowledge that, if closed, could help prevent nearly 300,000 car crashes a year involving inexperienced drivers.

That gap concerns the only part of the car that touches the road. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration analysis of the 2.2 million car accidents occurring in 2012 shows that more than 1 in 10 involved inexperienced drivers and the condition of their tires.

Teen drivers lack experience navigating unpredictable conditions like bad weather, poorly maintained roads or sudden stops in traffic. To make matters worse, they’re prone to “distracted driving”: texting or talking on a phone from behind the wheel.

With the many challenges these drivers face as they gain experience, teens should be armed with safe equipment and the know-how to maintain their vehicles in a safe condition.

Inspecting tires for conditions that could lead to a tire failure is quick and easy. While driver’s education has done many things well, teaching about the risks of driving with unsafe tires has largely been ignored.

Michelin North America and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for world motor sport, have partnered to address this important issue. Our research shows that driver’s education varies by state and only half of teens (49 percent) and their parents (47 percent) believe their driver’s education program completely prepared the teens to drive.

Our audit of driver’s education curricula across all 50 states revealed that fewer than half mandate classroom time.

Of those, only seven states cover detailed tire safety information.

It would be comforting to think that teens are learning about tire safety on their own, but that’s not happening. Our survey showed that 1 in 4 report never checking the condition of tires. A majority say their parents teach them about tire maintenance, yet only around one-third of those parents consider themselves extremely knowledgeable about tire maintenance.

All drivers should familiarize themselves with their vehicle and tire owners’ manual for safety and maintenance information. Anyone who knows a teen driver should ask if they know how to check tire pressure or tread depth and how often they should do it. For example, ask them if they know the “penny test.”

This simple trick, plus checking tire pressure, is explained at www.beyondthedrivingtest.com. FIA and Michelin encourage all states to update their education curricula to include tire safety information, and we are providing materials to help.

Longer term, what is needed is a single, nationwide approach that ensures more complete safety education for young drivers.

Michelin and FIA are calling for all 50 states to include comprehensive information about the importance of tire maintenance and safety in official state driver’s education materials by the year 2020.

It’s time we make sure that every young driver knows how to properly check his or her tires, and it’s time to call on our states to include this information in driver’s education programs.

Pete Selleck is chairman and president of Michelin North America, Inc.