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Crash-Proof Your Kids: Make Your Teen a Safer, Smarter Driver Paperback – May 2, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Timothy C. Smith is a certified driving instructor, SCCA-licensed racer,
and award-winning author. He lives with his wife and his three teenagers in suburban Chicago. Visit him at

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

chapter 1

The Crashproof Plan Essentials

Fortune favors the prepared mind.

Louis Pasteur

Here's what happens in less than a second when a car traveling 55 mph hits a stationary object:

• 0.1 second: The front bumper and grille of the car collapse. If the car has an air bag, it has already inflated.

• 0.2 second: The hood crumples, rises, and strikes the windshield as the rear wheels lift off the ground. The fender wraps around the struck object.

• 0.3 second: The driver's legs jam under the dashboard and break, while the steering wheel heads for the driver's chest.

• 0.4 second: The car's wrecked front end comes to a stop, but the car's rear is still rushing forward, and the driver's body is still traveling at 55 mph.

• 0.5 second: If the car is not equipped with an air bag, the driver is smashed against the steering wheel, crushing arteries and lungs.

• 0.6 second: The driver's feet are ripped out of their shoes. The brake pedal snaps off, and the car's frame buckles in the middle. Without an air bag, the driver's head smashes into the windshield.

• 0.7 second: The passenger door rips loose, and the rear doors fly open. The front seat rams forward, pinning the driver further against the steering wheel shaft and dashboard, as the backseat breaks free and strikes the driver, who may already be dead.

Sometimes we need a jolting reminder of why effective driver training is so important and how shockingly fast lives can change forever.

We have a collective blind spot in North America when it comes to the importance of training teen drivers. The training requirements for driver licensure are much less comprehensive than for other, far less hazardous activities. Consider that in the state of Illinois, an apprentice plumber is required to put in a minimum of 1,500 to 1,600 hours of supervised training in the first year. To become a licensed journeyman plumber, someone will typically spend 6,400 hours of in-field training and 800 to 1,000 hours of classroom work over a four-year period.

Yet, with the possible exception of a cardiac arrest when a customer sees the bill, plumbers don't frequently kill or injure themselves or anyone else while fixing leaky pipes. It's clear that many of our training and licensure requirements are out of whack when compared to the risk factors associated with them.

Teen driver training requirements in the United States are also far less rigorous than in many other countries. In Germany, obtaining a driver's license is possible only after turning 18, completing 24 hours of class work, logging 20 hours of driving with a certified driving instructor, passing a rigorous test (which is failed by more than half the takers), and paying more than $2,000. Then you get a two-year probationary license.

More rigorous training has proven to pay off, too. In Australia, road safety organizations recommend at least 120 hours of parental-supervised driving, and Australian crash rates are substantially lower than in the United States. Swedish research indicates that teens with an average of 118 hours of supervised driving had 35 percent fewer crashes after licensure than those with an average of 44 hours of supervised experience. Sweden and Great Britain, which require comprehensive driver training, both have auto fatality rates less than half that of the United States.

Despite these facts, many parents assume that traditional driver education programs are sufficient and provide enough training to make a major impact on their teens' driving ability and future safety. They're dead wrong. With limited hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel time, only traffic regulations and the fundamentals of car control can be covered. We give our teens a handful of hours to learn traffic laws and drive with an instructor, and then we wonder why the injury and death rates are so high?

In addition, many high school driver education programs have been eliminated or have suffered substantial reductions in funding. The subsequent expansion of for-profit driver education schools has been distressingly haphazard, with little consistency in training, curriculum, and methods among the thousands of programs in this country.

Most programs have little time to focus on risk factors, defensive-driving skills, and accident avoidance -- the very things that help keep our kids alive as they become better drivers. The other factors and pressures that have such an impact on driving behavior -- social, parental, peer -- are simply outside the scope and influence of driver education teachers.

It should be noted that many driver education teachers are skilled, caring individuals who do a job every day that most of us would need heavy sedation to do full-time. Their instruction is an essential first step in the learning process for teens. But it's only a first step. Far more time and effort are needed to develop safe, skillful drivers than is possible with the current level of resources dedicated to driver education programs.

While increased governmental and school spending on teen driver education would undoubtedly help, the primary responsibility lies with us, as parents. They're our kids and our precious heritage. And you have been granted clear authority: no child under 18 in this country can obtain a learner's permit or a driver's license without a parent or legal guardian's written consent.

The Crashproof Plan is part of the solution to increasing the effectiveness of teen driver training. It won't be a cakewalk if you do it right. You have years of ingrained driving habits, which may or may not be the best ones to impart to your teen. And, like many parents, you may have difficulty communicating with your teenager. (If you disagree with the last point, you are either exceptionally fortunate or perhaps slightly delusional.)

Your teen is not jumping up and down with joy at the thought of enduring a series of lectures from parents about driving, accompanied by that god-awful '70s and '80s music you listen to on the radio. Your son is pretty sure that within a couple of weeks, he will drive better than you do, and your daughter mostly wants you to give her the keys, let her social life blossom, and get the heck out of the way.

Finally, your calendar is jammed. You don't have big blocks of time to be allocated, no matter how worthy the cause.

Relax. You can do this. These are not insurmountable obstacles, and the Crashproof Plan is your secret weapon.

You don't have to be an experienced driving instructor to make the Crashproof Plan work. All it takes is time and proven methods. This book will provide the methods and break them down into manageable exercises that you can fit into a hectic schedule. If you think that there's just too much on your plate to do this, remind yourself of how valuable the investment will be for the well-being of your child and your family. Of all the things that compete for our attention, why wouldn't this be at the top of the list?

Consider for a moment all the time you already spend in service of your son or daughter. More than any other generation in history, we've added chauffeur to our parenting duties. We shuttle our kids back and forth to see friends; to take lessons in dance, piano, and Spanish; to attend games and practices for soccer, baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, softball, and tennis; and to parties, dances, meetings, and club functions. If we were paid chauffeur rates for all the running around we do for our kids, we'd all be retired and living in Fiji by now.

But teens don't die at soccer games and ballet practices. Take advantage of the time you might spend driving them back and forth by using it as part of your supervised driving time. Have your teen do the driving with you to his or her activities and to your regular circuit of the grocery store, pharmacy, and dry cleaner.

If you can find consistent days and times to set aside, you'll be much more likely to stick with the Crashproof Plan and make good progress. Sit down with your calendar and your teen's schedule, and plot out the time slots that will be the most available. Mark it on your calendar to reinforce the commitment. As competing events arise, treat the time you've set aside with the priority it deserves.

The prospect of reducing some of this burden by having our teens drive themselves to places as soon as they get their licenses can be compelling. Weigh those benefits very carefully, because crashes are actually most likely to occur in these local situations. Teens are more likely to be under time pressure, carry other passengers, and have their guard down a little on familiar streets. Shift the driving burden only as they prove ready, and be especially careful about additional distractions or weather hazards.

The purpose of the Crashproof Plan is to better the odds of teens surviving their driving, which too often ends up as a form of high-stakes gambling. Every time your teen gets behind the wheel, his or her hand of cards includes training, mood, car condition, weather, road hazards, and the behavior of other drivers.

The foundation of the Crashproof Plan rests on solid data, helping you determine the biggest payoffs for your time and effort, as well as suggesting how to work most effectively with your teenager. Some of the statistics leading to the creation of specific exercises support the conventional wisdom about teen drivers. Others may challenge your preconceptions and rearrange your priorities.

For example, the facts concerning what actually causes the most fatal crashes among young teen drivers are noteworthy. National publicity and awareness efforts have focused on teen drinking and driving, and rightfully so, but the percentage of fatal accidents involving teens and high blood alcohol is much lower than that of those caused by driver error. According to 1998 data released by the Insurance Institute for High... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743277112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743277112
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Pamela on May 22, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
High school Drivers' Education courses are woefully inadequate to the serious task of training young, easily distractable people what to do in actual real-life road conditions. More teens are killed in car accidents due to simple driver error than due to drugs and alcohol combined. It's time for parents to step in and supplement their kids' education with much-needed skills. "Crash-proof your teens" will help you do that. Presented in a simple step-by-step method, this book will lead you through the difficult maze of helping your kids to be safe and fearless drivers. You may also come out of it a safer driver yourself.

(My 17-year-old daughter was killed in a car crash caused by simple driver error. The driver was also killed, as well as another teen in their car and a 9-year-old in the car they crashed into. I wish that this book would have been part of that young driver's training. Maybe all four girls would still be alive.)
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Mary R. Martin on June 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Teaching one's teenager to drive is one of the most unnerving experiences a parent will go through. Fraught with conflict, fear and tension, it's no wonder so many of us pass-on this task to others. But one of these days you are going to have to get in the car with your teenager at the wheel. To prepare yourself for this frightening fact-of-life read Tim Smiths' thoughtful and informative "Crash-Proof Your Kids".His approach is organized, practical, concise and often humorous. Even your teenager won't mind reviewing this book. And believe me, when it comes to giving instruction on parallel parking or highway merging or parking lot safety it's reassuring to be able to refer to what the expert says on the subject. This kind of information allows the frazzled parent to impart useful tips before they're needed, and often without shouting! The information in this book was very helpful to me and my son as he approached his driver liscencing exam. I wish I had it 5 years ago when my daughter had me clinging to the dashboard and whispering profanity.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Laine S. Herman on November 9, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Divided into four "gears" and 32 chapters, this book is a must have for serious instructors and should be required reading for ALL parents!
Easy reading with many tips - "females have a statistically greater crash involvement at intersections, so pay particular attention to this area with girls turning left across traffic." Charts, including braking distance and new auto purchase recommendations also included. I keep this paperback in my door pocket and refer to it often as a professional driving instructor.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Bladerunner B26354 on September 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
It is clear that the author who is not pressured by corporate demands, who has the time to write about his subject and fine tune it with such passion makes a much more believable, compelling work. About the only thing that could be done to Crashproof your Kids to improve its overall impact is a set of diagrams or perhaps a few pictures that illustrate the author's points. But that gets back to my point about how well Mr. Smith writes. Every sentence informs, every chapter educates. No way your kid should be without this book before he or she ever turns the key. The best driving book or a solid drivers ed book include driving psychology that would constitute a driver's bible--all are related to driving philosophy and driving science, since many people really do not know as much about the nature of driving as they think.

Driving physics and psychology are a passion of mine because many motorists out there simply don't know what they are doing. Finally, someone has both the writing ability AND the driving skill to tell new drivers so much of what I wish I could. My problem is that, as a driver of 28+ years, I don't like speed limits. Mr. Smith has given me, a veteran driver and one who thought he knew everything about driving, dozens of reasons outlined in Crashproof Your Kids to slow down more often. Tim's expertise is clearly evident in the almost 300 pages of this excellent non-fiction work--way better than the mushy and drippy psycho-babble road rage books of the late 1990's. Tim, I want to party with you, brother. You really know your stuff. Who would ever think to make sure they don't mess with their cellphone while refueling or indulge in some other activity that builds up static electricity that could cause a fire? Tim did, and he wrote about it. Lots of pearls of driving wisdom that are more than homespun advice.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Gordon M. Booth on April 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
Tim's book is an excellent book written with the express view of keeping your child alive for longer. Remember, driving is the most common reason for under 25 year old deaths.

I strongly recommend that you and your young adult read this book. It is one of the best I have read on the subject. Reading it will make the difference!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By DeDe on September 15, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been using the recommendations and following the prescribed practice tasks while teaching my son to drive. He is responding very positively, and seems to really appreciate the fact that I care enough to be reading the book and following the course with him. The book has me thinking of things to talk about with him that I would not have thought about on my own. So many things about driving we just take for granted after all these years, but the book reminds us that these little things must be learned and gives us recommendations as to how to introduce them. My mother gave me the keys to the car and I drove home from getting my permit. How scarey is that? That's just not an option today, and this book outlines a complete course of practice that will definately help me to help my son be a better driver. I am very pleased with it.
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