Drivers Ed Diary: Entry 1

[Written by Contributing Writer Grace Keller, who will be keeping an ongoing drivers ed diary for us, detailing her experiences going through one of our online drivers ed courses]

I’m currently on Lesson #2—Signs, Signals, and Markings—of my online driver’s ed course. In this lesson, I’ve been learning all about different road markings, right-of-way laws, traffic control devices, and of course, all types of road signs. Until now, I didn’t even know that they were separated into three distinct categories—regulatory, guide, and warning. The further into my online course I’m getting, the more confident I feel about going out onto the road. Even though my course is online and not in a traditional classroom, I’m still getting all of the vital knowledge I need as a teenage driver.

teen using laptop to write a driver's ed diary

Working on the drivers ed diary.

Lesson #1 taught me about how being allowed to drive is not a right, it’s a privilege. It also taught me all about being an organ donor and the benefits of it, how to get and keep a drivers license, and how to take financial responsibility as a teen driver. My mom was extremely impressed when I told her about all I’ve learned so far taking this course—I think it’s making her feel much better about letting me drive with her in the car.

Did you know that over 98,000 people nationally are on a waiting list for organ and tissue donation? I’m definitely going to be an organ donor when I can finally take the behind-the-wheel test to get my drivers license. I may not have even known about this option if it hadn’t been for the great information I’m getting from doing my course.

I’m glad I chose to take my drivers ed course online, since I’m always so busy between school, extracurriculars, and social activities like hanging out with my friends. I’ll also never have to worry about making up a class if I miss it, since I get to decide when I start each lesson! Even just a couple lessons in, I’m already seeing the benefits of getting to choose where and when I do my classes, along with what pace it goes at. I usually tend to prefer a much slower pace, so that I can fully understand what I’m being taught, but has proven to explain things so well, with all of its visuals, like videos and pictures, and its end-of-lesson tests, that I hardly ever need to worry about whether or not I’m processing all of the information. is preparing me for going out on the road by simulating real-life driving situations that I might run into, and asking me questions on how I would conduct myself in dealing with them.

I’ve hardly gotten into the course yet, but I know the further I get into it, the better it’ll be! I’m already so excited to use this knowledge in my everyday life, whether it be learning how to drive on the roads, helping out a friend who has also started their driving education, or who knows—maybe even giving my mom some reminders and pointers on what I see with my view from the backseat!

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Safe Driving Tips As The Clocks Go Back

Safe driving tips as we put clocks back to standard time

The long light evenings of summer have come to an end and it’s time to exchange that air conditioning button for your car’s heating control.

Yes, at 2 a.m. this Sunday (November 6), we officially say goodbye to summertime as the clocks go back one hour, marking the end of Daylight Saving Time for 2016 and a return to standard time.

Changing the clocks means it can be dark by late afternoon and, before long, darker in the mornings too. Darker roads mean riskier journeys, for all road users. And that’s why, as the clocks go back, we need to think about adapting the way we drive, building winter driving techniques into our existing safe driving skills.

Here are our tips for driving safe when the clocks go back:

Keep your car in tip-top condition

  • Check lights, including indicators and brake lights
  • Keep your car clean to help improve visibility through the windows
  • Keep wiper fluid topped up so you can clear your windshield
  • Now is also a great time to think about other checks, such as tire pressure, fluid levels and oil

Be prepared

  • De-mist windows before you set off
  • Pack a basic emergency kit, just in case you get into trouble

On the road

  • Keep your speed right down as you are less likely to see vulnerable road users such as children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists in the dark
  • Maintain a safe following distance, at least three seconds in good conditions
  • Adapt your speed to suit the weather – it takes around twice as long to stop on wet roads and ten times as long on icy roads
  • Look out for others and anticipate the actions of all road users
  • Stay focused on the task at hand
  • Remember that familiar routes can look different in the dark
  • If you use high-beams, don’t forget to switch back to low-beams when another vehicle is approaching

Collision rates generally increase after the clocks go back and as visibility and weather conditions begin to worsen. But, with a little planning ahead you can be certain you’ll be ready for a whole new season of safe driving. You might just need to turn up that heater another notch.

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Hands off your phone! The distracted driving law is getting tougher in California

texting and driving texas

Recently, a new law was signed in by California Governor Jerry Brown, which makes it ‘an offense to drive while holding and operating a cellphone or electronic communications device’.

What does this mean? It means that if you so much as pick up your phone while driving, you’ll be breaking the law. Here’s what you need to know.

While driving, it will be illegal to use your phone for activities such as:

  • Taking pictures
  • Streaming music
  • Using messaging apps
  • Using social media
  • Reading a message
  • Entering an address into GPS

What IS legal?
You may use your phone while driving if it’s mounted to the windshield or dash AND can be activated with just a finger swipe.

If you break the law there is a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.

Why is the distracted driving law changing?
People use their phones to do more and more – and this is leading to dangerous behavior behind the wheel.

Assemblymaker Bill Quirk wrote the bill (AC 1785) which proposed the law. He said he wrote it to bring the law up to speed with technology.

“Technology has improved so rapidly, and our cell phones are more capable of much more than just calls and text messages. Smartphones have an abundance of available features that demand a driver’s attention, leading to very dangerous driving behavior. However, such activities are not clearly prohibited by law,” Assemblymember Quirk stated.

“This bill targets the deadliest cause of distracted driving related crashes, the use of an electronic device while driving. The accidents, injuries and deaths associated with this form of distracted driving are completely preventable. I am proud that Governor Brown has agreed that it is time that we update our archaic laws on the issue and do our part to make sure drivers are focused on the road. This bill will save lives.”

Prepare for the law – stop distracted driving now
The law comes into force in January 2017, but, of course, using your phone while driving before then is still dangerous. Our advice? Put your phone out of sight to resist temptation while driving. If it’s necessary for you to have your phone in sight, to use navigation software for example, be sure to use an approved dashboard or window mount, set up your route planning before you start driving, and make sure you can use the phone with just a swipe, so that your eyes, and your attention, can remain on the road.

We all know we shouldn’t use a cellphone while driving. It’s a distraction – and is involved in around one in four collisions. But it’s so tempting. There’s Snapchat, messaging apps, Facebook, Instagram…the list goes on and will only get bigger. And that’s exactly why the distracted driving law is getting tougher.

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What’s the Best Age to Start Teaching My Teen to Drive?

[By Contributing Writer Christina Tynan-Wood]

Teen girl and mom using a computer to learn about defensive driving.

Picking an online course to learn about defensive driving can be fun. Seriously.

Is a five-year-old too young to learn to drive? When my daughter, Ava, was five, she got behind the wheel of a pink, battery-powered Barbie car. Everything she knew about driving, she’d learned from watching cartoons. So she closed her eyes, floored it, whipped the steering wheel back and forth maniacally, screamed, and headed straight for traffic.

I barely caught her before she careened into an oncoming car. It was terrifying—and straight out of Looney Tunes. Except my daughter is not made of celluloid. I know that driving is not something kids are born understanding. But I was suddenly intensely aware that—without my help—she was learning driving skills inadvertently from the information she was consuming. She was too young to drive. But her mind was a sponge and she was soaking up driving lessons from cartoons—and watching me drive. I taught her to cross the street and not play in the road. I realized I could take more control over what she was learning from the back seat, too.

“Every time you get in the car, whether your kids are buckled into a car seat or a traditional seat belt, it’s a teaching opportunity,” agrees Hale Gammill, Director of Driving School Operations for eDriving in Southern California. “Don’t waste any of them.”

First I pointed out that if had she been driving an actual car, she had to look where she wanted the car to go. So closing her eyes wasn’t her best decision. (Though the scream was a nice touch.) She nodded. She didn’t have to be behind the wheel to see the logic. “They always crash in cartoons,” she explained. “I was scared.” I pointed out that we don’t always crash when I drive so I would teach her to drive safely. So, every time we got in the car, I found lessons she could learn easily from the back seat.

In fact, just buckling her into her car seat was an opportunity to teach. “Explain why you use a seatbelt when you drive,” says Gammill. “And the importance of this safety harness for the driver, as well, in keeping you safely in one place in case of a collision or emergency stop.”

“And then move on to the importance of a proper seat position adjustment,” suggests Keith Russell, Regional Director of Business Development and Operations for,, and eDriving. “Tell her why you don’t want to be too far from the pedals or the steering wheel, that your arms should always be bent at the elbow so that there is no tension in your hands or arms, and so you are comfortable while driving.”

When I was fixing the head rest before driving, I took a minute to explain why. “The head restraint should always easily support the middle of the back of your skull,” says Russell. “To prevent whiplash in the case of an accident.”

Once I started this, she started asking questions. So I knew I was onto something. “What’s that for?” She asked when I used my turn signal. “That’s a good opportunity to explain how important it is to use turn signals to communicate with other drivers,” offers Gammill. “They should be used on all turns and whenever you want to make a lane change or exit the road.” While I had her attention, I thought. Why not mention the hazard lights? “Those are not just for emergencies,” agrees Gammill. “Hazard lights are important to use if you drive in a torrential rain, when making a parallel parking maneuver, and for any unique occurrence on our roadways to inform other drivers of a safety issue.”

“Why don’t you hurry up and catch those cars?” Ava asked when I was driving on the freeway. “It’s not a race,” I told her. “And that’s an opportunity to discuss the importance of having a proper space cushion between you and the vehicle you are following,” says Russell. “This will help her to begin to understand one aspect of defensive driving. The proper space cushion is determined by road conditions, time of day, and weather. Explain that you want to give yourself a minimum of a 3-second following distance in dry daytime driving and more in worse conditions.”

By the time Ava got behind the wheel herself as a freshman in high school, she had internalized a lot of these lessons. She did well in that class. And anytime I forget to use my turn signal, drove too close to a car in front of me, or put my hands in the wrong place on the steering wheel, she still corrects me. I don’t think she remembers any of the driving lessons she learned from Looney Tunes, but, when I listen patiently to her lectures correcting my driving, I know she remembers what I taught her.

Christina Tynan-Wood is a freelance writer living in Northern California. She covers technology, cars, and parenting for national magazines and blogs at

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Parents: Tools to help your teen resist using their phone while driving

[This article is being published in support of National Teen Driver Safety Week. If you have any comments or have a story to share about this topic, please send them to]

Why do teens text, use social media, film and take pictures while driving?  The tools they ned to resist distracted driving

Teenagers live an ‘always-on’ lifestyle. Whether calling, texting, using social media or taking selfies, many teens barely go a few minutes without tapping away on their phone.

A study carried out in 2015 found that 92 percent of American teens reported going online daily, with 24 percent saying they went online ‘almost constantly’. Added to this, teenagers use all kinds of messaging apps, such as Snapchat, WhatsApp and Kik.

In fact, teens are so addicted to their phones they have been described as having a ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FoMO) – an anxiety about being excluded; not immediately seeing a message or app notification, for example.

How does an ‘always-on’ lifestyle affect teens while they are driving?
This fast-paced way of life has manifested itself in dangerous driving behavior, according to a study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions).

Almost half (48 percent) of teens reported texting more when alone in the car. A third (34 percent) admitted to taking their eyes off the road when an app notification came in, and the majority (88 percent) who considered themselves to be ‘safe’ drivers reported using apps at the wheel.

A surprising finding was who teens were texting while driving: their parents! The survey found that teens felt their own parents – more than anyone else – expected immediate replies to texts. Fifty-five percent of the teens reported texting while driving to update parents, with 19 percent believing their parents would expect a reply to a text within just ONE MINUTE.

Sometimes, basic solutions are the most effective. Below, we highlight some everyday reasons your teen might pick up their phone while driving and give simple solutions – the tools your teen needs – to address these.

1. Your teen…IS TEXTING YOU
As mentioned above, some teens use phones while driving to update their parents. Yes, it is worrying when you have a newly licensed teen driver and it’s natural to request updates when they’re out and about. But, give them the tool to do this safely.

The tool to help your teen: Make it clear that your teen must never update you while driving. Not a ‘quick’ text while stopped in traffic, not a ‘quick’ call, even on hands-free. Ask your teen to get in touch when they have arrived at their destination or are stopped in a place where it is safe and legal to use their phone. And parents, never text or call your teen when you know they are driving.

Teens sometimes behave the way they have seen others – often their parents – do things. For example, your teen may drive with their cell phone on the passenger seat because they’ve seen you do this too.

The tool to help your teen: Model the correct behavior – phone on silent and away in the glovebox! Insist everyone in your family does this. Note that hands-free phones do NOT reduce risk, because research shows they do not reduce cognitive distraction.

All teens know they shouldn’t use a phone while driving. Most teens are aware of the reason for this. But, does your teen fully understand what they will NOT SEE by taking a quick glance at their phone?

The tool to help your teen: Give a practical demonstration. Ed Dubens, General Manager and Executive Vice President of eDriving FLEET, has a great tip: “Next time you are in a car with your teen as a passenger, ask them to pick a moment to imagine they are driving, to take a final look around before closing their eyes and counting three seconds – 1,000 and 2,000 and 3,000, and then to open their eyes and see how far you have traveled and how the scene around has changed – scary!”

Teenagers sometimes feel they are being asked to do something that no one else does – driving safely is one example. Your teen sees others engaging in risky behavior that seems socially acceptable, so why shouldn’t they?

The tool to help your teen: Empower your teen. After all, what’s really so bad about valuing their own life and the lives of their friends too? Encourage them to make a pledge to drive safe – do this across the whole family and across your teen’s peer groups too. Any friend who isn’t willing to drive safe or ride safely as a passenger must not travel with your teen.

We know teens have a fear of missing out. So, even after discussing the risks and putting suitable consequences in place, you may still worry that your teen is going to find it difficult to resist using their phone at the wheel. This is not a risk worth taking.

The tool to help your teen: It may sound ironic, but technology can actually help prevent your teen being distracted by technology! Many organizations, including cell phone companies, have ‘apps’ that help disable a phone while driving. These are not fool proof but – combined with your efforts to encourage your teen to avoid distractions – they can be a useful addition to the toolbox.

Ed Dubens commented: “Most parents will be aware of how dangerous it is to drive distracted but might not know what to do to tackle the problem beyond talking with their teen and establishing rules and consequences. They may not have considered the small, practical ways in which they can help. By highlighting some of the everyday reasons for teenagers using their phones while driving and offering simple solutions, we are demonstrating that, with the correct tools, parents can have a big impact on the driving behavior of their teens.”

We are running a National Teen Driver Safety Week contest!

We are inviting teens to turn the tables and help make their parents aware of distracted behaviors while they drive. Our #viewfromthebackseat contest is designed to empower teens to be part of the distracted driving solution. So, let your teen know about the contest and leave the rest to them… and remember to be on your best driving behavior.

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Lead by example: A parent’s guide to modeling good driving behavior

[This article is being published in support of National Teen Driver Safety Week. If you have any comments or have a story to share about this topic, please send them to]
Father Modeling Good Driving Behavior
Do you know how long you have been teaching your child about driving?

From the moment your child began to observe the world around them from the backseat of your vehicle, they were subconsciously learning from your behavior.

And, with research finding that teens often replicate their parents’ driving behaviors, it’s important to be the best role model you can be.

Here are five best practices to help you model the right driving behavior to your teen.

1. Start outside the vehicle
Safe driving goes beyond the skills required behind the wheel – and includes everything from maintaining your vehicle to ensuring you are fit to drive. For example:

  • Fitness to drive. Avoid driving while tired or when particularly emotional or stressed.
  • Vehicle checks. Involve your child in this process from a young age to emphasize the importance of having a safe, well-maintained vehicle.
  • Planning ahead. Plan your route, avoid rush hours and check the weather forecast – put off journeys if conditions are bad.

2. Set up a routine
Establish a regular routine – buckle up, adjust mirrors and set up GPS before hitting the road. Position your device so you don’t have to touch it while driving.

Show your teen how to avoid cell phone distraction by putting your phone on silent, in the glovebox. Never check it while you are driving, even in a jam or at traffic lights. Research carried out by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that distracted driving was a much bigger problem for teens than previously thought, with distraction a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes.

Teens are known to have a “Fear of Missing Out” so could be tempted to sneak a glance at their phone if it pings while driving. Making phones silent and out of sight removes this temptation.

3. Resist all distractions
While cell phones are amongst the biggest distractions (and laws related to their use vary greatly), they are not the only distraction for drivers.

In reality, there’s a wide range of far-too-common non-driving activities that can increase your chance of crashing. Even if it’s not against the law, set a good example to your teen by avoiding anything that could be distracting. Such as:

  • Actively using the GPS/mapping software
  • Meddling with the radio / playlist / Podcast app
  • Eating or drinking
  • Reaching for objects in the car
  • Grooming – shaving, brushing hair, applying make-up
  • Smoking
  • Horsing around with passengers
  • Watching TV – even if glancing across at something a passenger is viewing
  • Reading – yes, people have been caught doing this while driving

4. Have the right attitude
Being a good role model also involves demonstrating how to deal with unexpected situations. For example, what you would do if another driver almost caused a collision with your vehicle? Would you lose your patience and shout? Instead, show your teen how to handle the situation correctly. Take a deep breath, stay calm and let it pass.

If your child is currently going through the process of learning to drive, they will have probably started to take more notice of how you act behind the wheel. Do you obey the speed limit? Do you keep a safe following distance?

In a recent interview, Robert Foss, senior research scientist at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, said: “We don’t so much learn ‘how’ to do things by observing, but we very much learn ‘what is appropriate to do’ by observing. So teens won’t learn how to be skilled in reading a roadway environment by observing, but they may learn that ignoring speed limits, or traffic controls is ‘the way we drive’ from observing what parents do.”

5. Take a hard stance
It is important that your teenager knows there must never be any exceptions or excuses. Distracted driving must not happen, ever.

Talk to your teen about the reasons for avoiding distractions. There are plenty of facts around that convey just how huge the problem is. Here are a few you might like to share with your teen:

  • Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. If traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded (2009, VTTI)
  • The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found distraction to be a factor in 58 percent of teen driver crashes
  • Cognitive (mental) distractions can continue for up to 27 seconds after the activity has ended, according to a 2016 study. So, if your teen texts while stopped a traffic lights, they may still be distracted once the light turns green, even if they have put their phone down

Discuss the penalties for distracted driving, as well as what punishments you will enforce or privileges you will take away if you discover they have been driving distracted.

Also, make your teen accountable for their own actions. One way to do this is to encourage them to sign a safe driving pledge. Of course, to set a good example, you should sign the pledge too. This will help commit you to the project of modeling good driving behavior.

eDriving CEO Celia Stokes said: “It is important for parents to recognize that teaching safe driving starts at home. Of course, driving is a skill that develops with experience, but there is no better place to begin than with the parent being the best role model possible. It’s really quite simple; if you show your children that you drive smart and that you are committed to distraction-free driving, they will learn from your example.”

We are running a Teen Driver Safety Week contest!

We are inviting teens to turn the tables and help make their parents aware of distracted behaviors while they drive. Our #viewfromthebackseat contest is designed to empower teens to be part of the distracted driving solution. So, let your teen know about the contest and leave the rest to them … and remember to be on your best driving behaviour.

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Texting and Driving: Some New Thoughts

[In honor of Teen Driver Safety Week, we're handing the keys over to contributing writer (and Actual Teen) Amy Tarczynski!]

Texting and driving is bad. You already know this because you’ve watched the videos and maybe even read the statistics. Most of us admit it’s bad, and a lot of the time we don’t actually intend to text and drive before we get in the car. So why do we do it anyway?

Part of the problem actually has to do with hearing those scary statistics: we don’t really believe they apply to us. It’s a phenomenon that cognitive scientist Tali Sharot named The Optimism Bias. Basically, when we think about our own futures, we tend to overestimate the likelihood that good things will happen to us and underestimate the likelihood of bad things. In the context of driving, that means we overestimate our own capabilities. In fact, one study showed that 93% of U.S. drivers think that they’re in the top 50% of safe drivers. We also underestimate our likelihood of being in a car accident. This would explain why so many teen drivers will agree that texting while driving is bad but admit to doing it anyway: we know it’s dangerous in general, but we don’t quite grasp how much of a risk it is to ourselves specifically.

So half of the problem is that we don’t acknowledge our own risk. But even when considering that texting and driving is inherently dangerous, it still doesn’t always feel wrong in the moment.

The issue here is that we can’t perceive the magnitude of the distraction. Unlike driving while sleep-deprived, where you can physically feel your difficulties concentrating on the road, using a phone while driving creates a much more insidious set of distractions. Psychologists have studied impairment to visual attention from talking on the phone while driving: people talking on the phone (including hands-free calls!) miss visual cues like traffic signals and road signs and don’t know that they didn’t see them …and these are the people who are looking at the road the whole time. When you’re texting, your eyes aren’t on the road.

And there are two other forms of distraction besides visual distraction: cognitive distraction, and manual distraction. Texting and driving causes both of these types, by requiring a hand on the phone, not on the wheel (manual distraction), and by pulling attention away from the driving task (cognitive distraction).

Attention is a limited resource. So by looking up and down from your phone to text, it’s not just that your eyes are off the road for a second. Even when you’re looking up, your ability to perceive the visual field in front of you is impaired without you realizing it.

There is more to this conversation than just our perceptions of danger, from how social norms can affect our texting and driving behaviors to what government and nonprofits can do to spread more awareness. Nevertheless, because texting and driving is still such an “I know it’s wrong, but I do it anyways” type of problem, permanently shifting people’s mental models around texting and driving may require more than the prescriptive warnings and scary statistics that we’re so used to hearing.

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Read our CEO’s Op-Ed, “Teen Driving: Smart is the New Safe”

Smart is the new safe: article on why teen drivers need to get smart

“No matter how fast and furious companies develop driverless technology, it will be many years before a majority of cars on the road are smart enough to drive themselves.” Celia Stokes, eDriving CEO.

The world we live in is fast-paced. Day by day we’re getting closer to a time when cars are completely self-driving and vehicle technology will get us safely from point A to point B. One day we might not even need to think about driving safely. But, until then, it’s you—or, to be exact, your brain—that is the single most effective safety feature your car has. After all, nearly 95 percent of collisions and road incidents are due to driver attitudes, behaviors, and choices. That means that to be a safe driver, you need to be a smart driver.

Smart driving means things like:

  • Paying attention behind the wheel
  • Maintaining at least a three-second following distance (and increasing this if conditions require it!)
  • Controlling speed, and adjusting it for conditions
  • Expecting the unexpected and having a plan for it

But it appears to be time to go farther: smart driving isn’t enough: it’s time to embrace SMART driving. (Or S.M.A.R.T. driving.) In a recent op-ed, and in preparation for Teen Driver Safety Week, eDriving CEO Celia Stokes explains why we’ve got more control than we think right now in the cars we currently drive. And why, as we await the day that cars are able to drive themselves, we all need to drive smarter and embrace SMART driving, a new set of principles and guidelines to keep us all safer on the road.

Find out five ways in which you can drive SMART by reading the full article: Teen Driving: Smart is the New Safe.

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My First Road Trip…In a Porsche

[Written By Contributing Writer Amy Tarczynski]

Imagine getting this text from your next-door neighbor: “I left my Porsche in the garage when we moved out yesterday. Would you be interested in driving it down here for us?”
Porsche Road Trip

Interested in driving a Porsche? Of course I was. But the journey from our street in Oakland to my neighbor’s new house in San Diego would take 9 hours with traffic. So while I was thrilled by the idea of driving a silver Carrera 4S down I-5, I was also nervous about delivering it safely from Point A to Point B…with 500 miles in between.

However, I channeled my nervous energy into focus. I saw this road trip as a culmination of everything I knew about safe driving–as if I was taking my driver’s license test part-two. Here’s how I passed:

Know your route. I didn’t want to rely on my phone’s directions the entire time, especially on the freeway. So while I did have map guidance turned on for the more complicated parts, I also made sure to familiarize myself with the general directions. All it took was reading through the Google instructions the night before and orienting myself with the map.

Plan your stops. Normally when I drive around town, I don’t start to worry about the gas tank until the last 5 miles or so. But now that I was covering so much ground, those signs saying “50 miles until next gas station” became relevant. So I kept an eye on the signs and on the gas tank. While this should sound obvious, the last thing you want is to forget about the gas tank until it starts warning that it has 25 miles to go…when it’s 30 miles to the next exit. Meanwhile, to stay fueled up myself I opted for the gas station grab-and-go coffee drinks, sparing myself the line at Starbucks.Porsche in Sun

Go with the flow (of traffic). To get to San Diego, I had to drive through Los Angeles. Congestion was inevitable. Once I hit the stop-and-go city traffic, this method really came in handy: when I was going fast but could see brake lights way out ahead, I would tap my brakes a little as I eased off the gas. Even before I needed to really decelerate, I was signaling to the drivers behind me that traffic was slowing down ahead. For the most part, they noticed and would ease off too, giving me more space to let off the gas. I did take note of a few distracted drivers following too closely behind me now and again. When it was apparent that someone was overly-invested in a phone conversation, I changed lanes.

…But stay on your toes. Which lane is best for comfortably going the speed limit, where I won’t get stuck behind slow traffic, but where I also won’t be tailgated by faster cars? How much following distance can I leave? I’m used to driving the same routes at home, where I already know the answer to these questions. Driving a long distance though means encountering different segments of highway, each with its own set of unspoken rules. It wasn’t hard for me to get a sense of them, as long as I continued to pay attention to other drivers.

Have a great playlist. Duh.

So while my future road trips probably won’t take place in a car that costs more than my college-tuition, I am glad that I had these high-stakes to keep me focused on my first one. 9-hour drives definitely demand both attention and patience, not just for the first hour. Nonetheless, keeping a few basics in mind makes for a smooth ride.

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The history of driving technology

How driver technology has changed

Can you imagine a car without seatbelts? How about a car without a radio? Ok, what about a car without an ignition? ‘Surely not’, you say? Well, in actual fact cars didn’t used to have any of these features, as well as many others.

Here, we take a look at some of the driving technology and safety features we take for granted in cars today. You may be surprised to learn exactly when some of these common vehicle features were introduced.

1911 – Electric Ignition
It’s difficult to believe, but before this date, simply starting your car could actually be dangerous! Over the years there have been several ways to ‘fire up’ your car’s engine, including manually turning a crank handle and even using gunpowder cylinders. Thankfully, inventors took away the risk when they came up with the electric ignition, which was first installed in a Cadillac in 1911.

1930 – In-Car Radio
These days we take it for granted that we can listen to our favorite songs while driving. But, before 1930, in-car radios weren’t an option. This changed thanks to the Galvin brothers, but their invention wasn’t cheap; at $130 an in-car radio cost roughly a quarter of the price of some new cars!

1956 – Power Steering
If you didn’t have much upper body strength you might have struggled to turn the steering wheel before the invention of this vehicle feature. But, thanks to hydraulics, after 1956, bulging arm muscles were no longer essential to make it safely around curves. By 1960, around a quarter of vehicles were equipped with power steering.

1959 – Seat Belts
The single most important thing you can do when you get in your car is buckle up. Which is why it’s difficult to imagine a time when cars didn’t even have seat belts. Invented by Nils Bohlin, the seat belt first appeared on a Volvo in 1959, but it wasn’t until 1984 that U.S. states began passing laws requiring drivers and passengers to wear them.

1971 – Anti-Lock Brakes
The simple explanation of Anti-Lock Brakes (commonly referred to as ABS) is that they help a car to stop more quickly in slippery conditions. But before appearing in cars, ABS was first introduced on aircraft. By 1971, Chrysler and Bendix had developed what is generally considered the first true four-wheel version of ABS for cars. Other manufacturers soon followed and car buyers of today think of ABS as a standard safety feature.

1973 – Third Brake Light
Whether it’s true or not there’s a great story surrounding the invention of the third brake light. Apparently, this vehicle technology feature was invented by a San Francisco taxi driver who was so frustrated after being rear-ended for the TWELTH time that he personally wired a truck light to his rear brake lights and put it in his back window. The third brake light was born! Legend has it the taxi driver was never rear-ended again; and the invention was so successful that since 1991 all cars manufactured in the U.S. have had to have a third brake light.

1984 – Airbags
Manufacturers experimented with airbags before this date but it was around this time they became a common vehicle feature. Ford introduced airbags as an option in 1984 and, by 1988 Chrysler was fitting them as standard. This invention was literally life-saving as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that around 2,000 lives are saved by airbags every year.

1994 – On-Board Diagnostics
Finding out what was wrong with your faulty vehicle got easier from 1994, with the introduction of on-board diagnostics (OBD). OBD systems were first developed in the 1980s but the early versions required car mechanics to have a different tool for almost every vehicle make! By the 1990s a standard version had been created and soon became a requirement on new cars.

2000 – GPS Navigation Systems
While paper maps may still be readily available, the chances are you don’t use one to find your way on the road. These days we simply enter details of our destination into a GPS system, start the engine and listen out for the instructions! GPS systems were around before 2000 but it was only when President Clinton signed a bill in 2000 ordering the military to stop scrambling satellite signals that in-car GPS systems were born.

2009 – Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars have a much longer history than you probably realise. In fact, as far back as almost 100 years ago radio-operated versions of self-driving cars had been invented. But, vehicle technology has come a long way and the self-driving cars being developed today make use of sensors, cameras and satellites to sense where they are on the road. Google is largely considered the leading developer of self-driving vehicles and in 2009 began testing its self-driving vehicle technology on freeways in California.

Today and Beyond
By looking back over the last 100 years of vehicle technology we can see cars have changed a great deal.

So, next time you get in your car, turn on the ignition without risking your life, listen to your favorite music, find your way using GPS, and know your journey is being made safer thanks to the invention of the seatbelt, airbags, ABS and other features, think about the many ways in which vehicle technology has developed to make driving safer and more comfortable for us all. Who knows what the future has in store?

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