In June 2005, I had the pleasure to be an instructor at a “Street Survival” training course, where I was introduced to a group of very cool teenagers. Their parents were even cool for signing them up for this day of “fun education”. From the streetsurvival.org website, the goals of the program are “to teach students some of the basics of car control, to enhance their enjoyment of driving and to improve their competence as drivers. We want the students to understand how their actions govern a car's responses, and as a result to become safer, more effective drivers on the road." While explaining the exercises to the students was easy for me, the most difficult aspect of instructing for this class was trying to remember what it was like to be a teenager. I tried to recall what I thought I knew about cars at the time, and how that affected my driving abilities.
Of course, at that age, just like the teenagers of 2005, I thought I was indestructible. Forget the very real statistic that teens are most likely to die in a car accident than for any other reason – at the time, I believed all those bad things you hear about happen to someone else. I thought I was an excellent driver. I knew it because some things you just KNOW at 18 – in fact, it took ten more years to figure out that I had never really learned how to drive. But I was also different from the teenagers I was instructing. Unlike one of my students, my father never discussed the possibility of buying me a new X3 after my first year of undergraduate studies. The best I could hope for was that my parents would consider paying for a second year of undergraduate studies, which was more than I deserved, and far more valuable than an X3. In fact, in my last year in college, I borrowed $1000 from my parents to buy a nine-year-old German Opel, pay the insurance premium, and have enough left over for a badly needed brake job and other repairs. Ultimately, I paid the loan off at $100 per month for a year – they didn’t charge interest – I had simply missed a payment or two. Unlike the teenagers I was instructing, today’s common systems like anti-lock brakes and electric windows were for the truly rich back then, whereas now multiple DVD players and GPS systems separate the "haves" from the "have-nots".
As I sat there in the 90-degree heat waiting
for my students
to arrive, I contemplated what the automotive industry was like in 1980
was 18, and tried to recall how the modern cars of that day had
thinking about driving. Back then, very
few people had been initiated to the concept of the “sports sedan” in
United States. The BMW 2002 was just starting to be regarded as a
and only the concept of the “Yuppie” and the BMW 320i was starting to
into our pop culture. In 1980, we were
seeing the worst of automotive engineering in American cars – Detroit
reached the bowels of mediocrity. Japanese
cars were on the move, proving that “Made in
Japan” finally meant
“reliable” and the American consumer was desperate for reliable cars.
Yet in many parts of this country, driving a
foreign car was strictly forbidden. Those were the days when
hostages were being held in an embassy in Teheran and anti-foreign
sentiment was very strong.
Boy, has the industry changed in 25 years. The teenagers of 2005 are inundated with a myriad of automotive choices from all corners of the globe, each model with available options and choices that make you dizzy if you didn’t have an interest in cars in the first place. And their parents are in no better position to figure out the answer to the question, “What is the safest car for my teen driver”? How is a parent to decide when each manufacturer claims to have dozens of safety options. Is an airbag the same in any car? Not really – some cars’ airbags are so poorly designed that they harm the occupants when triggered. With the SUV craze, people are often misled into believing that sitting up higher is somehow “better”. Then public opinion changes when another news program comes out with an exposé on some SUV’s dismal rollover record. However, take a sedan with a competent set of properly-inflated tires, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and properly mounted 3-point seatbelts (used by the teen driver and all their passengers), and now you have found a simple recipe for safety. In a sedan, a teen driver can remain alert and conscious of the fact that they’re still hurtling 2 tons of steel and glass down the road, which is what many of today’s SUVs do a brilliant job of making you forget.
I believe the parent considering an X3 for his
daughter truly has her best interests in mind. We
didn’t have enough time to discuss all the reasons why a new X3 might
a great choice on the surface, but may not turn out as well as a lesser
vehicle. If I could influence that parent about what
to buy, I would tell them to take a trip out to Arizona or California
and search for a mint condition E30 (1984-1992 3-series, but the later
year models are best) that their
female, would learn to respect in the best possible way. These cars are
solid, and despite the lack of airbags, withstand accidents as well as
most new cars. For
about $5000, it would teach your teen respect for rain and snow. And
male or female, it would
respect for checking their oil and other fluids. It would put them in
touch with the driving experience in the best
possible way and instill a healthy respect for driving safety. They
would not be overly isolated from the
road, with a dozen computers making up for their every mistake. If they
show off some of the same toys as their friends have, aftermarket
audio, video, and GPS systems are readily available. And the
best part is not only would they have the hippest parents for buying
for them, they would have the sweetest car on campus – a reliable
classic car – and they would probably be the only student around to
have one. How cool is that?
For more information on the 2005 Street Survival
program in New York, download the July-August 2005 New York Chapter BMW
CCA Newsletter here.