All posts by Fred Mottola

Backing Up: 50 Children Crushed Each Week –– Four Habits Can Save Them!

By Professor Frederik R. Mottola,
National Institute for Driver Behavior

For Greg Gulbransen and his wife, Leslie, life as they knew it ended one evening eight years ago.

After feeling a bump under the wheel, his headlights lit up a scene in his driveway that would change their lives forever. Their precious 2-year-old son, Cameron, lay sprawled, clutching a blanket and bleeding heavily from his head.

Jennifer McLogan of CBS2 news reported the Gulbransen’s tragedy and their dedication to reducing the likelihood of such hardships from happening to other families. After years of effort, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act was passed by Congress in 2010, which called for a backup camera in all cars by 2014. However, as of September 2013, the Department of Transportation has continued to postpone implementing the mandate to auto manufacturers.

With fifty children each week being treated in the United States emergency rooms as a result of being crushed under the wheels of a family member’s vehicle, and until all vehicles are equipped with backup cameras, drivers need to examine the techniques they use when backing.

The blind area to the rear of most cars and SUVs is dependent upon the configuration of the rear window and the height of the driver. The lower in the seat the driver is, the greater the blind area directly to the rear of the vehicle. There are very few drivers who have less than a 50-foot blind area, and many have an even greater blind area. To conceptualize how large an area that is, picture this: the average blind area would contain fifty adults laying on the ground shoulder-to-shoulder to the rear of the vehicle and the driver would not see a single one. And, imagine how many toddlers could wander into that space.

The old method taught in driver education (and required on most states’ licensing exams) for turning the head rearward and looking over the right shoulder should be discontinued. Looking out the rear window does not give the driver any more information than is gained by looking into the rearview mirror. And, looking over the right shoulder makes the driver’s side of the vehicle totally blind to the driver. When preparing to back into an area where vehicles and bicyclists may travel, such as crossing a sidewalk, backing into a street (to be avoided when possible) and backing out of parking spaces, turning the head to search out both the left and right side windows is a necessary supplement to using the mirrors.

Drivers should be taught how to effectively adjust the outside mirrors and how to use them, as well as how to acquire habits for using the rearview mirror. A proper adjustment of the outside mirrors should give the driver a slight view of the side of the vehicle, which will allow the driver to detect a child approaching the vehicle. And, if add-on convex mirrors are placed in the lower outside corner of each mirror, the viewing angle will be greatly increased. Speed must be at a slow walking pace. By continuous use of all three mirrors, and with a slow movement, the driver will be able to see anyone wandering into the vehicle’s backing path.

Even when a vehicle has a backup camera, drivers must develop these four habits to help avoid the tragedy that the Gulbransen’s, as well as hundreds of other families each year, have experienced.

1. Check to the front and rear of the vehicle before entering it.
2. Back at a slow walking pace.
3. Check the three mirrors continuously, in this sequence, with no more than one-second pauses: rear, passenger side, rear, driver side, rear, passenger side, rear, driver side, etc, until the vehicle is stopped. When the vehicle is equipped with a backup camera, substitute the views of the rearview mirror with views of the backup monitor along with the use of the outside mirrors.
4. If you feel any resistance to the rolling of the vehicle, STOP MOVING! Secure the vehicle, and check to see what is impeding your movement. Stopping may make the difference between broken bones or fatal internal injuries to a toddler.

About the author: Frederik Mottola, Professor Emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University and Executive Director of the National Institute for Driver Behavior, has, for the past 50 years, researched and developed techniques to help drivers learn good habits for space-management. A scientist, inventor, educator, and author, he has designed successful crash-reducing programs for corporations, municipalities, police, military, emergency vehicle operators, and traffic safety educators on national and international levels.

What! Four-Hour Driver Education Classroom Sessions???

Yesterday I received an email asking my opinion on whether there should be four-hour classroom sessions allowing a teen to complete a driver education program within 8 days. Such a contemplation would be equivalent to saying, “we should teach teens a foreign language in eight days and expect them to read, speak, and understand complex subject matters in that language even though their lives may depend on it.” That is more than ridiculous! It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding for how a teen should learn the mental preparation of risk-prevention and space-management, which is the equivalent of learning a foreign language. An effective space-management curriculum cannot be poured into teens’ heads as a continual flow of knowledge. The jug would overflow within five minutes of the four-hour class.

William Glasser and others have cited the following statistics: a person retains 10 percent of what is read, 50 percent of what they see and hear, 80 percent of what they experience, and 95 percent of what they are able to teach to others. Every lesson in an effective curriculum should provide activities that allow students to become teachers and to use risk-prevention, space-management behaviors in such a way that they can be nurtured into life-enduring habits.

The major function of a classroom session is to prepare the student for in-vehicle performance. The more preparation the student is given in the classroom, the more responsibility he/she should assume for knowing what is correct behavior while operating in the vehicle.

An effective curriculum takes into account brain-developmental concepts such as providing the learner with meaningful problem-solving opportunities in a non-threatening environment, and giving the learner positive feedback within seconds of successful performance. Classroom activities must give students an opportunity to learn and apply the concepts and behavioral patterns they will be expected to perform during the next in-vehicle session.

There are truck loads of research clearly demonstrating that lecturing to teens, or reading to teens from the text book –– which is most likely to happen as the period of classroom time increases –– has little to no educational value. And, the average attention span for a teen is 8 minutes. If they are interested in the topic, their attention may leap to 20-30 minutes. When a teacher is confronted with a four-hour time period, it would take a highly energized and extremely effective teacher to turn the 240 minutes into 30 dynamic 8-minute student-centered activities. It most likely will not happen.

We at the National Institute for Driver Behavior are adamant in our belief that the content of a typical driver education classroom should not be presented within four-hour classes over a period of 8 days. Perhaps a driver education curriculum should be presented in 8-minute activities spaced over a period of FOUR YEARS –– which will be the topic of a future posting.

About the author: Frederik Mottola, Professor Emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University and Executive Director of the National Institute for Driver Behavior, has, for the past 50 years, researched and developed techniques to help drivers learn good habits for space-management. A scientist, inventor, educator, and author, he has designed successful crash-reducing programs for corporations, municipalities, police, military, emergency vehicle operators, and traffic safety educators on national and international levels.

Isn’t a Driver’s Life Worth More than $30?

Everyone talks about the dangers of texting and driving but most don’t see how texting affects their performance. The general attitude is “sure I shouldn’t be texting and driving, but I can handle it.” An AAA and Seventeen Magazine online survey of 1,999 teens ages 16-19 found that 86% had driven while distracted even though 84% know it’s dangerous. And, according to a 2011 Ad Council survey, 55% of teen drivers believe that is it easy to text and pay attention to driving at the same time.

The Florida legislators have just demonstrated that they are a microcosm of the values society has regarding the dangers of texting and driving: none! The legislators recently passed an anti-texting-while-driving law that clearly sends the wrong message to the motoring public –– a message implying that texting isn’t dangerous. Why is this not a good law? Let us count the ways. First problem: a driver cannot be stopped by a police officer for texting. The Florida law is not a primary offense, which means an officer can only stop a texting driver if the driver violates some other law, i.e., if the driver runs a stop sign, and the officer can see the driver was texting, then the anti-texting law is violated. The second problem: when a person is finally caught, there is a whopping $30 fine, or about the amount a person would pay for four packs of cigarettes, or four Starbucks. This inconsequential monetary fine is not the worst flaw in this law.

The worst is that the law allows drivers to text while stopped at a traffic light! WOW! Allowing drivers to text at a traffic light is the equivalent of saying, “don’t pay attention to the traffic scene; forget the need to manage space while stopped, don’t be concerned that there may be bicyclist or pedestrians crossing in front of you who are not seen as you start your car in motion.” And, “don’t be concerned if a driver approaching your stopped vehicle from the rear is also texting, because the law allows him to do so unless he crashes into your car.” Having a “law” that says it is okay to text at traffic lights encourages drivers to do so, and it is likely to get more people killed at intersections.

While stopped at a traffic light drivers should be encouraged to pay attention to conditions that are constantly changing. According to the Federal Highway Administration, each year 35 to 40 percent of all crashes take place at an intersection, which accounts for about two and a half million crashes at intersections each year. How could the Florida legislators believe that it is okay for a driver to sit at a traffic light and text? Intersections are so dangerous we refer to them as “Danger Squares.”

Picture this: A driver with his head down, engrossed in a texting conversation, is not likely to notice that the traffic light changed and the car in front is moving. At the same time, the driver to the rear is impatient and blows his horn to get the texting driver to move. The texting driver becomes startled, releases his foot from the brake while finishing the text and accelerates directly into the path of an oncoming vehicle that is making a left turn. Now, suppose the oncoming vehicle is a motorcyclist; the texting driver crashes into him; the results is a traumatic brain injury. Texting changes the life of another motorist, yet no law is violated! Or, the texting driver doesn’t see a pedestrian who is still in the crosswalk and accelerates into her. Little good would the law be for protecting the pedestrian. Now, if the pedestrian dies, a number of lives are lost, changed, and ruined because of the texting. I have family and friends living in Florida, I would not want to see any of them victimized by a driver “obeying” the law because someone believes the law is safe.

Perhaps no law will make a difference unless it takes away the temptation of texting, or the law has a consequence that a driver would not want to experience. What if, when a driver is caught texting, the phone is impounded for thirty days for the first offense? And, for the second offense, the phone and the car are impounded for sixty days. Such a law would be a countermeasure to our society’s addiction to texting. Well, is that too severe to save one life, let alone the hundreds of lives that are lost?

However, as blatantly as the government of Florida is turning a blind eye towards a solution to reduce texting crashes, there is hope from other States. New Jersey, for one, is forging ahead with consequences more than a thirty dollar fine. Fines in New Jersey range from $200 to $800 with possible license suspension depending upon past violations and outcomes of the crash. If cell phone users drive recklessly and cause injury or death, penalties would include prison time and fines up to $150,000. And, New Jersey just approved legislation that will post signs along highways warning drivers that there is an anti-texting law in effect.

For Florida, at the minimum, having the no-texting-in-traffic law as a primary offense will at least get drivers searching ahead for police officers so they can pretend they are not using the phone –– and maybe by chance they will see what they need to see to detect problems affecting their space management.

Oh, I forgot: most texters believe they can text and drive without problems. Who needs a “law” to give them permission to text at traffic lights?

 

About the author: Frederik Mottola, Professor Emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University and Executive Director of the National Institute for Driver Behavior, has, for the past 50 years, researched and developed techniques to help drivers learn good habits for space-management. A scientist, inventor, educator, and author, he has designed successful crash-reducing programs for corporations, municipalities, police, military, emergency vehicle operators, and traffic safety educators on national and international levels.

What in the World is Driver Education?

At the recent ADTSEA Conference for driver educators, I made the statement to several of my friends and colleagues that “it is time to get rid of driver education.” Then, before they could take a swing at my head, I backed up and began to explain what I meant.

 

For the teachers I was talking to who spent upwards of a thousand dollars and four days of their lives to attend the national conference, driver education is more than a way to make a living; it is a passion for helping provide teens with a lifelong set of safe driving skills. But, these dedicated teachers are sometimes mixed in with others who don’t have the same passion.

 

There is such a wide variation of competency levels among driver education teachers and instructors. You know of friends –– and I’m sure you cringe as I do –– who tell you about some of the driver ed stories their teens’ recount. “The driver ed teacher fell asleep in the car. My son had to wake him up.” “My instructor didn’t help me, she just kept telling me to park again and again until I got it right. After seven attempts without success, she said ‘I don’t know what more to do to help you.’ I gave up.” “My driver ed teacher had us take turns reading aloud from the textbook when we weren’t watching movies.” Stories like these and other factors have created an industry that gets little respect. Yes, Driver Education is the Rodney Dangerfield of education. Yet those of us striving for, and conducting, quality driver education programs know that there is no subject matter in the high school curriculum that has a higher enduring value to one’s life, or to maintaining the quality of life, than Driver Education. And so it should have the utmost respect.

 

Now I’ll get to the other part of what puts driver ed into an arena that makes it appear to have little value to the general population. There is no standard for what a teen should be able to perform at the end of the driver education program other than being able to pass the licensing exam. The skills one needs to pass a driver licensing exam are based upon knowing rudimentary motor vehicle laws and regulations and being able to demonstrate basic (very basic) vehicle manipulative skills. The major objective for a teen who comes into a driver ed program is to be able to “go through the hoops to get my license.” The teen has little concern for learning “space management” skills because they are not evaluated to any extent during the licensing exam. So, how much does what is being evaluated on a licensing exam affect the quality of driver education? Answer: A lot!

 

In 1970, the United States had the lowest number of traffic deaths in the world at 30 fatalities per 100,000 population while the United Kingdom had 38 and Japan had 95 fatalities per 100,000 population. However, although safer vehicles, safety belts, airbags, and faster medical response time lowered fatality rates worldwide, in 2010 the United States was ranked higher in fatalities than 60 other countries with a 12.3 fatality rate. The UK dropped from 38 to 3.6 fatalities and Japan dropped from 95 to 3.9 fatalities per 100,000 population. The major changes both the UK and Japan made were to increase the skill level requirements before licensing. The UK’s licensing exam emphasizes applicants’ perceptual abilities to detect a potential crash situation. And, Japan places emphasis on applicants demonstrating step-by-step driving procedures, which requires a tedious and lengthy learning process. The cost of receiving the training to get a license in the UK and Japan will range anywhere from the equivalent of $2000 to $5000 dollars. And, it isn’t uncommon for some to take years to learn how to pass the licensing exam. Conversely, there have been no significant changes in the licensing exam within the United States. The cost for those taking driver ed in the US ranges from $300 to $800, and there is a greater number of licensing applicants in the US who take no driver education.

 

It is difficult for those driving schools that operate a quality driver education program and pay instructors a professional wage to complete with the driving school across the street that is paying their undertrained instructors wages that are equal to, or less than, what one earns working at a fast food restaurant. A parent calls your school. The first question: “How much is your driver education program?” Parents are not going to ask “What will you teach my daughter to provide her with life-enduring crash avoidance skills?” Parents don’t know the differences among programs or what should be learned! Until the driver licensing exams begin evaluating skills that are relative, we need to promote the value of our programs.

 

Here is where we get rid of the term “driver education.” The parent calls asking for pricing. You state: “We conduct more than a driver education program, we conduct a Driver Wellness Coaching Program that teaches teens how to stay alive.” “But your program is twice as costly as your competitor across the street.” “Well ma’am, if your son needed a life-saving operation, would you send him to a surgeon that charged half-price, or would you want the best? Our Driver Wellness Coaching Program is the best!” Then, you need to deliver the goods!

 

About the author: Frederik Mottola, Professor Emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University and Executive Director of the National Institute for Driver Behavior, has, for the past 50 years, researched and developed techniques to help drivers learn good habits for space-management. A scientist, inventor, educator, and author, he has designed successful crash-reducing programs for corporations, municipalities, police, military, emergency vehicle operators, and traffic safety educators on national and international levels.

Land an Airplane, Drive a Car: It’s All in your Mind

Last week I was at the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association’s Annual Conference in Maine, where I was invited to make a presentation on how to improve teacher performance.

 

A few days before my presentation, an Asiana Airline pilot crashed while on a visual approach to the runway in San Francisco. The pilot had previously made only six landings in the Boeing 777 –– and those were made by autopilot, where the plane basically lands itself. Making a visual approach requires perceptual judgment; the pilot must match the correct airspeed with the proper glide slope. On a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, the skills the pilot needed would rank as a 2, or about the same difficulty level that a novice driver would have in avoiding the rear tire of a vehicle from hitting the curb while making a right turn. The crash could have been easily prevented if the pilot had consciously learned to see with his mind the proper relationship of the plane to the runway as it was on its glide path – in other words, the use of Reference Points.

 

When it comes to learning how to operate any vehicle, whether an airplane or a car, it is easier for an instructor to tell the operator what to do, rather than teach what the mind should be seeing; but teaching the mind to see is the most effective way for learning to occur!

 

During my presentation, I recounted an experience I had in 1972 when I was a student pilot learning how to land a Cessna 150. During my second lesson, as we were coming in for a landing, the instructor was coaching me on the actions I should take: “Pull back the throttle; put in a notch of flaps; pull back slightly on the yoke; put in a little left rudder, etc., etc.” So, I asked, “Al, what are you seeing that allows you to tell me what actions I should take?” “Oh, after three or four more lessons you will begin to get the ‘feeling’ for the actions that should take place,” was Al’s spontaneous reply. By this time the plane was landed, but I continued to probe Al’s mind: “How do you judge the exact moment to flare for a soft landing?” Again, there was a response I didn’t want to hear: “It will come to you after you get more experience.”

 

That same year, as part of our driver instructor training program at Southern Connecticut State University, I had implemented a system for student instructors to videotape their in-car performance as they were student-teaching novice drivers. After viewing the tape, student instructors would then write a critique of what they liked and disliked about specific moments and make suggestions on how they could improve their “coaching” skills for their next lesson. There were no video camcorders at that time; we used a video camera attached to a portable tape deck with reel-to-reel video tape. Well, you probably guessed that I borrowed the video equipment, and on my next flight lesson I installed it in the airplane.

 

With the videotape rolling, I asked Al if we could shoot two or three landings – which he was more than willing to have me do. I took the video home and studied the relationship of how the plane appeared to the runway when it was on its glide path. The visual cues were very clear. I had the correct picture in my mind and was eager to test out my newly-developed mind skills.

 

Once again in the plane with Al and ready to make a landing, I asked him not to give me any instructions. “I want to take all the actions on my own; only correct me if I put the plane in a dangerous condition.” The landing was perfect. Al said, “okay, let’s see if you can do it again.” After the third perfect landing, Al asked, “how were you able to be so consistent?” I smartly replied, “oh, you’ll get it after you have more experience.” Then I told him the secret. Once I knew how the number of the runway appeared to sit directly in front of the cowling as the plane was on the glide path, I had my reference points; and it was easy to use the plane controls to keep that picture constant while making the descent. If the mind knows what to do, it is very easy for the hands and feet to take the correct actions!

 

The improvement we need in driver education is to give our instructors the advantage of new and better training in how to help teens cultivate mental preparation. Development of the mind can take place without the teen being in a vehicle! A maneuver can be defined by each of its key “mind photos.” For example, for making a precision right turn there are five pictures the mind needs to learn. When each “picture” is learned, practiced, and mastered, it is simple for the teen to control the pedals and steering wheel to recreate the correct “pictures.” You will be amazed at how consistently teens can make a perfect right and left turns, as well as accurate parking maneuvers, on their very first attempts – once their minds see the correct pictures for success.

 

About the author: Frederik Mottola, Professor Emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University and Executive Director of the National Institute for Driver Behavior, has, for the past 50 years, researched and developed techniques to help drivers learn good habits for space-management. A scientist, inventor, educator, and author, he has designed successful crash-reducing programs for corporations, municipalities, police, military, emergency vehicle operators, and traffic safety educators on national and international levels.

Isn’t it Time to Eliminate Motor Vehicle Crashes?

Everyone knows of friends and relatives who have been in car crashes. Crashes occur so frequently that they are accepted –– in some cases expected to happen. There is a flood of information stating that teen drivers have a higher percentage of crashes than mature “experienced” drivers. It doesn’t have to be this way! Teen drivers should be better drivers than their parents and better than the majority of “experienced” drivers. The only things preventing teens from becoming “expert” drivers are the low expectations that society places upon them and the failure of our driver licensing system to place higher standards upon our educational system to provide teens with more than basic driver education.

 

Basic driver education is able to teach the conscious level of driving –– the rules of the road, how to use the vehicle’s controls, and necessary skills and information to pass the licensing exam. However, basic driver education isn’t able to develop and evaluate the unconscious values that already live in the teen’s unconscious mind. Applying John Locke’s conception of the mind, teens do not come into the driver education course with a completely blank slate; the many experiences they have had over their 15-16 years are indelible and often invisible to the teen, the teacher and parents. In the short time span in which novice driver education programs are conducted, there is neither time, nor opportunity, to evaluate how these experiences have been steeped into habits – unconscious values – for space management, or mismanagement.

 

It is the unconscious habits that dictate the position and speed vehicles travel in all situations. It’s the “feeling” of comfort a driver is able to accept for the approaching situation. Two drivers approach the same red traffic light: Driver 1 sees the light 15 seconds ahead, takes her foot off the gas, checks her rearview mirror, makes a slight braking action, and arrives five seconds away from the intersection when the light changes to green, searches the intersection to the left, front, and right for a clear path, continues through while gradually increasing speed back to 45-miles-per-hour –– a demonstration of expert space management. Driver 2, while 15 seconds away, continues to accelerate, applies a forceful braking action, bounces the car to a stop, waits impatiently for the light to change, and accelerates forcefully ahead at the first gleam of the green light only to speed ahead to the next red light where the same chain of actions will be repeated, repeated, repeated. Sooner, or later, perhaps on the 3,556th repeat of emulating a drag racer’s reaction to the yellow light, there is a pedestrian, or motorcyclist, or an aggressive SUV driver attempting to cross the intersection at the end of the yellow light. Just like that, during that one critical second, the “dragster” loses the race and lives are lost.

 

Both drivers performed all of their actions by habit without any conscious awareness. Their minds could have been on thoughts far away. Their actions, a second before the crash, were completely comfortable and acceptable to them. There were no thoughts of “right” or “wrong,” no feelings of “safety” or “danger” –– they were merely “driving.” Stand on any busy traffic light controlled intersection to see Driver 2 and all of his friends who follow him blindly, unknowingly, unaware of better choices that could be made. While standing on that corner you may have difficulty finding a driver performing the behaviors of Driver 1, the one who knows how to effectively manage space.

 

Isn’t it time families demand essential training and effective driver licensing exams to help teens acquire the space management habits necessary to stay out of crashes?

 

NIDB Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation, is offering a new program to families. With the Zone Control Awareness e-Coach, all members of the family, from 4 -year-olds to 90-year-olds, acquire awareness habits that protect them against the wrongful actions of others. And, teens as young as 13 years old will get hundreds of experiences as “co-drivers”  ––  before learning to drive ––  and acquire the right habits for controlling the critical second.

 

Contact: info@NIDBcollege.org

 

About the author: Frederik Mottola, Professor Emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University and Executive Director of the National Institute for Driver Behavior, has, for the past 50 years, researched and developed techniques to help drivers learn good habits for space-management. A scientist, inventor, educator, and author, he has designed successful crash-reducing programs for corporations, municipalities, police, military, emergency vehicle operators, and traffic safety educators on national and international levels.