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Driving School Drives Home Real, Virtual Lessons

They cannot manage to keep their rooms clean and they'll stroll out of the house in the dead of winter wearing only a T-shirt. They're teenagers. And they drive cars.

"Car crashes are the number one killer of teens in the U.S.," says Steve Mochel, who was determined to do something about that statistic. Steve and his wife Laura Shuler, with four teenaged children between them, started their company -- Fresh Green Light Driving School in Cos Cob -- with a loving appreciation of teenagers and a keen understanding of how they operate. There are approximately 6,000 teen traffic deaths each year, says Steve, and that number is the equivalent of a "loaded Boeing 737 crashing every nine days. With no survivors." It is, he adds, "Truly an epidemic."

According to Steve, the old fashioned paradigm of driver's education – boring, rote-memory class work coupled with sometimes harrowing and often too brief driving time – clearly is not working. Linda and he, both of whom were formerly marketing executives, began Fresh Green Light in 2009, after their research revealed the United States had lagged behind countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the UK in training teens to drive.

Fresh Green Light is a fresh take on educating teen drivers. The school is equipped with high-tech driving simulators, hybrid cars with onboard videos and well-trained instructors (longtime teachers and educators). And the curriculum brings new drivers to the virtual road before the actual one. "The [driving] simulators are really amazing for 'teachable' moments," says Steve. Simulators, downscaled but related to those used by pilots and astronauts, allow students to react to a variety of traffic scenarios, from making left turns into four lanes of oncoming traffic and merging onto a highway for the first time to potential head-on collisions. And the simulators' high-tech presentation is, Steve says, a natural interface for teens. Additionally, the simulator allows students to understand the effects of texting while driving by allowing them to do just that – virtually, that is.

"Cognitive abilities needed to drive a car aren't fully developed in the teen years," says Steve. With the brain's prefrontal cortex still in development, young people often lack the capacity to "focus and scan" until their early to mid-twenties. Steve and Laura have found that their programs, which were included in NHTSA study about advanced driver training for young drivers, help train the brain's cognitive abilities and increase the function of a teen's brain.

Simulators notwithstanding, the single best tool in creating a good driver, says Steve, is parental involvement in the training process, and Fresh Green Light's program encourages and supports an ongoing dialogue between driver and parent. According to Steve, four out of 10 teens have an accident during their first year of driving. Fresh Green Light is working toward bringing down that number. If only they could get your kid to clean his or her room...

Please share your driver's ed stories -- good and bad -- here.

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