- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

"Driver education is unsuitable for teens." Kenneth Zuber is a man with some definite opinions about driving, and that's one of them. The Homewood, Ill., author and educator teaches driving to youngsters, but his methods and his intentions are far different from those taught in the usual driver's education in schools.

For one thing, Mr. Zuber wants to instill a joy of driving in his pupils, as well as teach them the ability to steer a car down a street or maneuver it through those three-point turns of which driving tests seem so fond. Conventional driver's ed, he said, is demonstrably unsuccessful, citing as proof a 1983 DeKalb study and statistics that show that teen-age drivers continue to be disproportionately involved in crashes.

The fault, Mr. Zuber said, lies in the fact that driver's education classes emphasize defensive driving. Defensive driving is based on a passive reaction to how others are driving. "Our main focus should not be reacting to the mistakes of others but making our own driving as error-free as possible. That way, together, we can eliminate most hazards before they occur."

The driving instructor sees an "illogical inconsistency" in teaching those who cause the crashes to drive defensively. "That's like teaching tornadoes to defend themselves against mobile home parks."

Several years ago, the Helios Institute of Homewood, Ill., published Mr. Zuber's book, "Joyriding: A Practical Manual for Learning the Fundamentals of Masterful Driving." Mr. Zuber hoped that its obvious, to him, revelations about the art, craft, skill and pleasures of driving a vehicle would be instantly embraced by educators and thus effect a major change in how driving is taught to teens. He underestimated how entrenched old habits can be. "It's astonishing the resistance there is to doing it right," he told me recently.

Mr. Zuber is not an admirer of graduated driver's licenses as an instrument for teaching good driving. GDL has impressed a number of state legislators, and increasingly the program has become law. GDL involves strict rules that a young driver must adhere to before advancing to the next level of licensed privileges.

Restrictions that are gradually removed for teens who successfully avoid traffic infractions and accidents over a certain length of time include no night driving and no other teens or only one teen passenger in the car. GDL requires seat-belt use and zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol. Drivers breaking the rules are busted back to the first licensing level until they get it right (or get older).

"GDL is not designed to teach teens to be good drivers; it is designed to improve statistics," Mr. Zuber said. "And, of course, the use of seat belts and elimination of alcohol will do that." Drinking and nonuse of belts figure prominently in teen-age automotive disasters.

Mr. Zuber believes that in order for teens to go beyond the basic level of survival and really learn how to drive, any GDL progression must be accompanied by a true apprenticeship, not just by a series of rewards for keeping out of trouble.

A driving apprenticeship requires knowledge and commitment from a parent or other adult. And that's hard to come by. "Often the parents are part of the problem," Mr. Zuber said. They seem to believe that some classroom lectures and 6 to 8 hours behind the wheel actually can make a driver of their child. "They mistake the ability to handle a car for driving. That's not driving. Driving is in the head."

Mr. Zuber takes the three-point turn as an example. "I watch them [the students] intent on turning the wheel right, backing up, and they get the maneuvering OK, but do they get the 'driving'? Knowing where to look to see if the way is clear? Being aware if they can be seen by other drivers? Thinking it through and considering the consequences of their actions?"

This maverick teacher is also concerned that teens taking driver's ed learn to look no more than 5 feet ahead of their cars because most of their practice is on driving ranges (large lots), rather than on actual streets. Mr. Zuber's book is full of information, unique approaches to learning driving techniques and attitudes leading, he said, to "attentive, efficient, graceful, inoffensive driving."

Adults who know some new drivers would do well to consider the book for a graduation gift. The price is $19.95, plus $6 shipping (Illinois residents add $1.55 sales tax) from the Helios Institute, 3433 W. 192nd St., Homewood, Ill. 60430. Phone: 708/922-3762.

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