Car accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, according to the CDC, but they are also preventable. At the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, Harry S. Truman High School began offering a driver’s education course to inform students on safe driving.
Although the program began in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been in the works for the past few years. Suzanne Denny, health and physical education department lead, met with other physical education teachers to discuss adding a program at Truman. Denny contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Education to get started and review curriculum options.
After planning the program to be a PDE-certified course, the driving education class was officially added to Truman’s curriculum guide. Truman offers the course as a half-year elective offered to students in grades 9-12.
The course just received three simulators. A simulator room will be ready for the 2021-22 school year. One simulator has been set up so far, and students have begun trying it out for the first time.
“Using the car simulator was a ten out of ten experience,” said Christina Williams, a 10th grade student. “I would totally love to do it again and it really gave me real world experience of what driving is like.”
The simulator is equipped with a computer screen, steering wheel, pedals and gear shifts, which gives students the opportunity to learn automatic or manual driving.
“Studies show that simulators aren’t just video games,” said Denny. “They allow kids to be put in dangerous situations without actually being in them.”
Before students get behind the wheel for the first time, simulators give students the opportunity to drive with less fear and anxiety. They can experience what it is like to drive impaired, in the rain or snow, and at nighttime.
“It was fun to do and had very realistic situations,” said Maryssa Felgenhauer, an 11th grade student. “It gave a good idea of how real driving actually is.”
Students can also practice parallel parking, highway or city driving, and become familiar with the basics like road signs and signals.
“The course doesn’t just benefit the kids, but benefits the whole community,” said Denny.
She and Steve Sicilia are both teachers of the driver’s education course and taught about 150 students this year. They recently teamed up with the American Automobile Association and invited two guest speakers to the class.
After completing the course, students earn a certification of completion from PDE, which some insurance companies offer discounts for. Additionally, three hours of simulator driving can be counted toward one hour of driving when preparing for the state’s driver’s license test, which requires 65 hours of adult-supervised driving.