Defensive Driving Courses Teach Teens Needed Skills

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The basics taught in driver's education just scratch the surface of the driving know-how needed by teens, yet, shockingly, not every state requires teens to go through even basic driver's education before getting their driver's license. A Michelin Tire study of 1,000 teens across the country found that half didn't feel prepared when they got their driver's license.

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How do teens learn what to do if their car starts to spin, how to check their car's tire pressure and how big a difference a slight distraction can make while driving? These are the types of lessons that can be taught within the safety of a supplemental driving program.

Luckily for those of us with teens approaching driving age, or for those who already have their licenses, there are several teen driving programs around the country, ranging from free to low-cost. Here's a roundup of a few of the larger programs:

Alive at 25: This four-and-a-half-hour driver's awareness course was designed by the National Safety Council for drivers ages 15-24 and offers skills practice and on-the-spot defensive driving training. This course costs $79; programs are offered regularly around the country.

Bridgestone Teens Drive Smart Tour: This free, half-day workshop teaches new drivers hands-on training to better handle crash-avoidance situations, as well as information on ways to eliminate distracted driving behaviors and basic vehicle maintenance.

Driver's Edge: Driver's Edge is distinguishable from the rest of the pack by being the only independent, not-for-profit program of this bunch. Jeff Payne, a former race-car driver, created the program in 2002, and it's free for all participants thanks to donations and sponsorships. Based in Las Vegas, Driver's Edge has ongoing programs there and in Reno, Nevada, along with an upcoming visit to Atlanta. There are plans for the program to travel to Washington, D.C., Detroit and the Bay Area in 2015. I've participated in this program on numerous occasions and strongly recommend its high-energy vibe for any young driver.

Ford's Driving Skills for Life: This program teaches newly licensed teens safe-driving skills beyond what they learn in standard driver-education programs. I recently attended this program with my 14-year-old daughter who's not yet driving, but we still found the program engaging and enriching.

Tire Rack Street Survival: This program gives a hands-on driving experience in real-world situations, and participants use their own car to learn how to best control it. There's a $75 fee.

Toyota's TeenDrive 365: This free program supplements standard driver-education courses and offers hands-on driving opportunities, virtual-reality driving simulators and info about the impact of distractions and safe habits.

With so many options, parents should have no problem finding a supplementary driver-education course for their teen driver. These programs help you and your teen become safer on the road; in addition, going together is a fun way to forge a deeper connection.

Toyota's TeenDrive 365

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Former Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars.  Email Kristin

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