|At driving boot camp at MetLife Stadium, students learn some defensive tricks.|
Did you know that the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds is car accidents?
Did you know that eight teenagers are killed in motor-vehicle crashes every day?
Jason Friedman of Franklin Lakes didn’t know these grim facts until he helped out at a National Auto Sport Association training session for young drivers led by his Pompton Plains friend Joe Casella. What he saw there led him to launch his Drive Safer business last year. His goal is to give new drivers a bigger dose of theoretical and practical experience. The next Drive Safer “boot camp” is scheduled for October 5 at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus.
According to Mr. Friedman, who is the father of two young children, students at Mr. Casella’s high-performance race driving courses sometimes include teenagers who have been involved in serious car accidents and are afraid to get “back on the horse,” as he put it.
“One 17-year-old girl was petrified even to get into a car again,” Mr. Friedman said. “Looking at her mom and dad was as scary as looking at her; they were so stressed and fearful.
“Joe persuaded her to learn more about how the car works and how to understand driving better. She took a short class and then did the actual exercises. In 30 minutes she was driving more confidently. There was skill-building happening before my eyes. Her parents were crying and hugging. I was very touched, and I realized that this is where an entrepreneur like me could make a difference.”
His subsequent research revealed not only the scary statistics about teenagers and cars, but also that the driver-education program taught in high schools has not been upgraded since the 1950s. The average teen driver gets fewer than 10 hours of formal practical training, whereas the average high school athlete puts in hundreds of hours before stepping out onto the varsity playing field. This struck him as both absurd and unsafe.
“The bottom line is that inexperience is the problem, and awareness of the problem and providing experience and training is the answer,” Mr. Friedman said. “From my early days attending Hebrew school, I was taught about treating people with kindness and performing acts of kindness for others. We spent years learning about the importance and value of helping those in need, and I think that all teenagers about to get their license, and their parents and families, easily fall into that category.”
He set up Drive Safer – initially in North Jersey and then in other parts of the state – to include a range of programs. The basic six-hour boot camps, which cost $279, are held in large open spaces like stadium parking lots. They provide an hour of classroom instruction and five hours behind the wheel under the tutelage of high-performance driving instructors. This is a certified defensive driving program, which qualifies those who complete it for an insurance discount and also up to two infraction points erased from their drivers’ license.
A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Friedman launched “Building Blocks,” where 14- and 15-year-olds get behind the wheel of a golf cart on a closed court and learn the ABCs of operating a motor vehicle.
“We had 12 students, and it was tremendous,” he said. “They’d never been in control of a vehicle before and they learned navigating, turning, and accelerating. There was a huge jump over two hours in how they did. This experience will make their future time in driving schools so much more productive.”
There is an advanced five-hour boot camp as well, and a Power Wheels driving instruction program for children. At the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Friedman also gives courses aimed at sharpening senior citizens’ driving skills.
In 150 high schools, Drive Safer offers free sessions on vehicle dynamics and control, as well as wellness and driver-safety fairs for kids and driver-training tips for parents. Mr. Friedman has partnered with 50 high schools that promote enrollment in his paid courses in return for a 12 percent commission on sign-ups.
In addition, Drive Safer has sponsored two statewide driver-education teacher conferences, one in South Jersey and one in North Jersey, and offers a certification program for instructors employed by driving schools. Mr. Friedman envisions expanding the business across the country.
“I firmly believe that by working with parents, teens, teachers, and driving schools we will change the statistics,” he said. “Most crashes involving inexperienced young drivers are usually one-car collisions in which they crash into trees or curbs, flip over, or spin out because they don’t know how to control their vehicle. These fundamental skills are what they need to learn through theory and practice.”