DEARBORN – Ford Driving Skills for Life, a program established by Ford in 2003 to teach newly licensed teens skills for safe driving beyond what they learn in standard driver education programs, marked 10 years of service in 2013 and is looking forward to continuing its global expansion throughout the next decade.
Established to help combat the statistic that traffic accidents are the No. 1 killer of teens in the United States, the program has provided hands-on training to more than 30,000 teens in the U.S. and has reached more than 450,000 people through its Academy online training courses.
Jim Graham, manager, Ford Driving Skills for Life, Ford Motor Company Fund, and his team have received hundreds of testimonials from both students and the parents of students thanking the team for the knowledge they’ve shared. Some openly admit that skills gained through Ford DSFL training saved their lives.
How do they do it?
According to Graham, typical drivers training courses – which often are no longer offered in schools – cover the basics of the rules of the road.
“Ford Driving Skills for Life hands-on training events provide the next step in the learning process beyond that basic driver’s ed class,” said Graham. “We get teens out from behind the desk and put them behind the wheel to provide real-world driving experience.”
Graham explained that Ford DSFL has stayed true to its core goal to provide inexperienced drivers with the added skills that they need to stay safe on the road by focusing on four main instruction categories: speed management, vehicle spacing, vehicle handling and hazard recognition.
Around 2008, distracted driving material was added to the curriculum which focused not only on the risks of texting or talking on a hand-held phone while driving, but also on other common distractions such as passengers, music and external elements.
By partnering with professional drivers – who provide the hands-on training in a way that engages teens, Ford DSFL has become a dynamic learning tool that gets through to teens. Ford DSFL also partners with state and local government organizations such as the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), to determine which regions could benefit most from the added training.
Graham is proud of the reach the program has had in the last ten years, holding hands-on driving events in 98 U.S. cities across 39 states, but to this day one particular story stands out for him.
In 2006, Graham – who was born and raised in Illinois, caught wind that in Tazwell County Ill., 15 teens had been killed in car crashes in a 15-month time span. “These were all small towns where everybody knew everybody, so to lose so many in such a short time had a great impact on the area,” said Graham.
Graham rallied his resources and took Ford DSFL to seven high schools in Tazwell County. To ensure the education wouldn’t stop the moment Ford DSFL left, the state of Illinois developed a statewide program in partnership with Ford DSFL that is now in more than 100 Illinois high schools each year. The result of all of these efforts has been that Tazwell County has greatly reduced the number of teen traffic fatalities – just one in fact – since 2006.
The next step for Ford DSFL has already begun and it involves expanding across the globe. “Our facilities overseas have done a great job of proactively implementing the already established Ford DSFL program,” said Graham. “Each region has different concerns. For example, in India not all new drivers are teens. Often times the training is directed to adults who have never driven before, but even in that scenario the primary issue remains the same: lack of experience.”
To date, Ford DSFL programs have been established in the following countries:
2003 - United States
2008 - Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand
2009 - Taiwan, China
2010 - India, South Africa
2012 - United Arab Emirates, Canada (Pilot)
2013 - United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Spain, France
On the horizon, the program will be headed to more states throughout the U.S. as well as Belgium, Romania, Malaysia and Myanmar creating safer drivers all the way.
Fiona Keigher 15 from GCMS high school experienced firsthand the dangers of distracted on a closed course at U.S. Cellular One Field.
Pictured (left to right, row 1 then 2) Pro driving instructor, Rob Knipe, Priya Bhaleta 16, Stephanie Pardo 18, and Samantha Delacerda 17.