Memorial Day weekend marked the unofficial start of summer, which is a dangerous time of the year for young drivers, according to AAA.
That organization calls summer “the 100 deadliest days.”
“The three deadliest months are when schools let out and they’re (teen drivers) raring to go,” concurred Brad Ault, president of Ault’s Driving School.
“Now that the CDC has lifted many pandemic restrictions, young adults are eager to reconnect with friends, which means young inexperienced drivers will spend more time on the roads,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesperson for AAA.
“There are more cars on the road, gas is cheap, and people have been cooped up,” Ault pointed out.
His driving school has a contract with Charlotte and Sarasota County school districts, but his instructors give private lessons to new drivers from Tampa to Fort Myers, and points in between.
Instruction at the counties’ public high schools is free, but teens and/or their parents must pay for private lessons through Ault’s school. Call 941-625-2449 for information.
Ault said students receiving instruction through their high school “get six hours of classroom lessons, six hours of driving lessons, and six hours of homework.”
AAA offers a comprehensive online education course for new drivers as well. For information, send email to DriverTraining2@acg.aaa.com.
AAA recently provided national and statewide statistics, which are rather grim for new teen drivers.
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens ages 16-19, according to AAA statistics. An average of seven teens are killed each day in crashes that are entirely preventable, the auto association announced recently.
Jenkins said, “for every mile driven, new teen drivers ages 16-17 years old are three times more likely to be involved in a deadly crash compared to adults.”
Jenkins went on to explain, “Teens lack the experience, skills and maturity of a seasoned driver, which contribute to an increase in the chance that there will be a deadly outcome, not just for the teen driver, but also for any passenger as well as others on the road.”
One local teen driver chose to learn how to drive safely through their school’s classroom lessons and instruction provided by Ault’s, while another is being instructed by family members, primarily his father. A 21-year-old shared her memories of learning how to drive and what it meant to her.
Alexis Blackmon, 16, recently completed her sophomore year at North Port High School, where she took the driving course offered to students.
Now a licensed driver, Blackmon said, “I was super excited to drive and get my license.”
Having had professional instruction gave her confidence, she said.
“I learned how to enter and exit the interstate,” she said. “I had so much practice.”
When asked whether she considered having her family teach her instead of professional instruction, she answered, “My dad is a mechanic and he instructed me at home, but he agreed that the school’s instruction would focus on all the rules.” She said he supported her decision to take the course.
Blackmon admitted she drove all over upon receiving her license.
“I went to downtown Punta Gorda, to the Sarasota University Town Center mall, I helped my parents run errands, and I went to the beach.”
The only restriction she has before turning 17, is that she can’t drive alone after 11 p.m.
Ronald Dupont III, who will be in his junior year at North Port High School, got his learner’s permit April 1, right before his 16th birthday.
His father is giving him his driving lessons “along with everyone in the family,” the teen said. Like the schools’ instruction, safety is a major factor in his education.
Before getting his permit, Dupont first had to view a video on safe driving and take a test on what he learned. Next, he took a written test with “common sense questions such as ‘what do double lines on a road mean,’” and after passing that test he received his learner’s permit, he said.
Dupont said he feels “more freedom” now that he can drive, albeit with a person 21 or older sitting next to him in the passenger seat.
He said he’s been doing a lot of driving for his family as he’s gained experience.
In the beginning, his father “started off by having me drive on little neighborhood roads, from my bus stop, and then on Tamiami Trail.”
Dupont has driven to Sarasota, and he plans to put more miles on the road this summer.
Meet a seasoned driver
Veronica Yealy, 21, is a student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, studying electrical engineering. She said she learned how to drive through Venice High School.
She said her school “had a really great program” and that it was “really good to drive with an instructor with an unbiased perspective.” Another benefit of having a driving instructor is that there is an extra set of brakes on the vehicle, she said.
Yet another advantage, she said, is that unlike parents or family members, etc., a professional instructor “won’t yell at you” if you make a mistake. Also, learning from a professional assures you won’t pick up “bad driving habits” that could be passed along from a non-professional instructor.