Across America, high school is marked by certain rites of passage. Some — like Homecoming — are fun. Others (zits) are not.
Then there is driver’s ed.
For decades, it has not changed. Bored instructors cover boring material like braking distances. “Road hours” progress from parking lot practice, to real roads, to highways. Then comes the license, and — 5 or 6 hours later — the first accident.
Just about everything else in education has evolved. Whiteboards replaced blackboards. Kids no longer pass balled-up notes in class; they now send Snapchats. The cafeteria serves sushi, not Sloppy Joes.
Yet driver’s ed remains stalled in the hand-crank era.
A Weston couple, Steve Mochel and Laura Shuler — importantly for this piece, parents of 4 teenage drivers — hope to change all that.
They left careers in corporate marketing, and founded Fresh Green Light. The company’s mission is to “reinvent the way teenagers learn to drive,” making it “safer, simpler and more fun.”
Their 1st driving school was in Rye, New York. After expanding to 5 towns in Connecticut and 1 in Illinois, they’ve opened a new outlet just a short drive from home: 1362 Post Road East in Westport.
A press release promised “a more modern driver’s education experience that’s more engaging, convenient and more effective for teens and parents today.” Before
wadding it up deleting it, I wrote back: “Prove it.”
Mochel and Shuler replied quickly.
They’re “more modern,” they say, because Fresh Green Light uses tablet computers in hybrid cars, providing parents with feedback on their fledgling drivers’ progress. The company also offers tips on what to practice together.
FGL also uses in-car cameras to record lessons, and “coach” their instructors. (Who, by the way, “have experience and passion as teachers, coaches, counselors and tutors.” No more “stereotypical driving instructors.”)
Fresh Green Light says it’s the 1st school in the US to have all instructors trained and certified to work with ADHD students.
They “constantly update the curriculum with video and new clips of current event topics related to driving.” For example, the recent Texas floods demonstrated how to drive in severe rain. Out, apparently, are those memorable training films featuring head-on wrecks and decapitations.
Classrooms have “the latest technology programs and devices for students, in addition to being visually appealing beyond the typical driver’s ed classroom.” Some include simulators that allow students to experience “the real-world outcomes of dangerous driving behaviors without putting them or anyone at risk.”
(To be fair, I’m not sure that traditional driving schools actually do put people at risk.)
All classrooms have flat-screen TVs for videos and “interactive PowerPoint presentations.” Because nothing says engaged learning like PowerPoint!
Oh, yeah: FGL also offers “the best home-baked cookies during class breaks!” Take that, traditional driving schools!
The company surveys graduates 6, 12 and 18 months later. Their students have “75% fewer accidents” than the national average.
Fresh Green Light also features “convenient home pick-up and drop-off, and online scheduling.”
The company has drawn notice from CNN, NBC Nightly News, Money Magazine and Crain’s New York Business, as an innovative small business.
I must admit, I’ve never gotten a press release from a driving school before.
Well, maybe I did. But it probably was so boring, I slept right through it.
Just like most kids at traditional driving schools.
What would Mr. Weiss think of FGL? Is he still around?
I took driver’s ed at Staples with Mr. Ljostad and I remember driving around town during instructional sessions in my family’s 1964 or ’65 Triumph Herald 1200 stick-shift station car. But was there some kind of car with dual controls that we started out with at Staples? I have no recollection of that. Or were our driving lessons conducted solely with our family’s cars that our parents “brought to class,” so to speak?
I took driver’s ed at Staples too (and we received 1/4 credit for the class). There was a special “driver’s ed” car that was always parked at Staples — we did not use our parents’ cars. I think there were dual controls in it.
Wow, I just don’t remember those at all. But I do clearly remember at the end going out with Mr. Ljostad in the Triumph Herald 1200. I took the class in winter and I recall even going into Weston on roads I was unfamiliar with (and there was a bit of ice/snow on some of the roads)–but I guess that was part of Mr. Ljostad’s plan to prepare us for the unexpected.
By the way, I love that vintage driver’s ed photo.
Whatever happened to the good ol days with Mr. Cannone and the lobster guy?
Mike – you’ll be glad to know that Mr. Cannone works for Fresh Green Light and has since we opened our first CT location in Greenwich 5 years ago. He’s a wonderful guy and and even more wonderful teacher!
I hope during the school day they offer defensive training and/or other classes for those who believe the rules of the road should be followed by others. Oh, wait. Those are the people who don’t read Dan’s 06880 on a daily basis.
Sounds like a wonderful driving school, but it can’t beat the laughs in Staples Drivers Ed, Spring 1972, when Mr. Weiss told us that a “Signal Ahead” sign did NOT mean you were supposed to put on your turn signals. Nor can any driving school today give you the challenge of parallel parking in an 18-1/2 foot long, full size 1972 Pontiac Catalina.
Visually-appealing Driver’s Ed, fresh-baked cookies, online scheduling, convenient home pick-up/drop-off, the latest in technology and devices, interactive PowerPoint presentations, “because nothing says engaged learning like PowerPoint!” OH MY! The missing ingredients? Lifesaving judgement, device-free driving, and plain old common sense. If this isn’t part of the “new and improved” Driver’s Ed program, you’re, ah, “missing the point”.
Susan you are 100% correct and we agree with you wholeheartedly. All of the things you mention are a core part of our program – especially device-free driving which is truly the epidemic of our times.
Birthday in August of 1966, so summer school Drivers Ed. When it got above 95 degrees in the Building 9 classroom we got out 10 minutes early! Sitting in the back seat of the DE car while another student was doing her stint at the wheel. As we approached the stoplight on the Post Road at Compo the light turned yellow. She burst into tears and slammed on the brakes, scaring us in the back seat and startling the instructor more than her. Good times…
I had Mr. Weiss in sophomore year second semester. Only did the in-class driver’s ed. since my father chose to teach me on the road in our family car. It was a stick shift and I have been eternally grateful to him for teaching me how to drive a stick way back then. It has proved to be an invaluable skill ever since 1967! Thanks, Dad:)
Mark Groth’s story above is hysterical! Did she forget what a yellow light means? Imagine how she coped with the dreaded Parallel Parking!
Anyway, I too had Mr. Weiss for in-class (a lot of films, I recall), and Mr. Ljostad for the driving sessions… seemed that there were only a couple of lessons before I was told to Merge onto the Turnpike! Yikes!
p.s. All driving schools should have a folder of 06880’s parking adventures:
“What is wrong in this picture?”