The warm days of summer beg for a fun road trip for many teenagers across the U.S. But before slipping behind the wheel, driver’s education teacher Eddie Gilliard, 56, wants parents and teens to work together to build safe driving practices.
“I think parents have to work hand-in-hand with teenagers and driving,” Gilliard.
A driver’s education teacher at Bluefield High School and Montcalm High School, Gilliard has taught hundreds of students how to be safe on the road. He began his career as a physical education teacher at Glenwood School in 1981. In 1986, he taught special education at Princeton Junior High before moving to South Hampton, Va.
“Upon returning to West Virginia, I was employed as physical education teacher at BHS in 1995. In 1997, I became the driver’s ed teacher.”
Gilliard, who teaches a course every semester, said the biggest challenge for today’s teen drivers are distractions, along with their attitude and the increased traffic on the road.
“The No. 1 distraction is a cell phone. I have seen adults doing the same thing,” Gilliard said. “Technology is wonderful, but not for the driver.”
The driver is not thinking cognitively, therefore, the mind is not on the road. Also, Gilliard said cell phones hinder the biomechanics of driving.
“You have to handle a phone and drive. I know the law requires hand-free devices. That is a big plus to reduce the amount of distractions from cell phone use. A lot of people haven’t crossed over to those hand-free devices,” he added.
A report by the AAA stated that almost 70 percent of teens admitted to talking on a cell phone while driving. More than 50 percent stated they read a message or an email while driving.
Another hidden distraction is too many people in the car with the driver.
“If they have a friend or two, most of the time, they are focused on the conversation. They are not fully alert and paying attention to the task at hand. We teach that driving is primarily a mental task, a thinking task. You must be on the task at hand. We can make our highways safer,” he said.
Gilliard also stated that teens and adults are guilty of “rubber-necking” or “gawking” at cars on the side of the road, wrecks or law enforcement during a traffic violation.
In most schools, driver’s education class is an elective or related arts class. Students spend time in the classroom learning about distractions, how gravity affects inclement weather, basic speeds and more. Then, student and Gilliard go one-on-one for behind the wheel instruction. Gilliard is proud of that fact that his students are often taught what to do in emergency situations and how to change a tire.
Since his first class, Gilliard has realized many young people fail to apply traffic laws once they are in a vehicle. He said many do not understand the right away
“Never assume someone will give you the right away. You give, not take,” he said.
While most modern parking lots have abandoned the need for parallel parking, Gilliard said it is still an important skill.
“It is a skill that is the final step to obtain. We do teach that. We also teach speed and steering control. Teens tend to do things extremely fast.”
To help teens stay safe this summer, he advises parents be consistent with their teen and follow the state guidelines. Gilliard remembers teaching his children how to drive. Though he admits teaching in the classroom was a lot easier.
“In the classroom, kids are ready to take that step forward to get their license. They also know its a graded activity, that helps a lot. There was a lot of emotions when teaching my daughter,” Gilliard said.
This summer, before getting in the driver’s seat, teens and adults should turn off their phones or put them away. Consider investing in a hands-free device. Then, set the music, including the volume. Since this is the time for road trips and vacation, beware of falling victim to “highway hypnosis,” according to Gilliard.
“The driving scene becomes drab and monotonous. Drivers might not be fully alert,” he added.
AAA advises parents limit night time driving, insist on seat belts and set limits on friends in the car. Also, be a good example. Don’t use a phone, avoid eating in the car, grooming or looking at maps while driving.
For more information about teen driving, visit www.teendrivingaaa.com.