5 Things You No Longer See in Driver's Ed

Say goodbye to the highway simulator.
Say goodbye to the highway simulator. / Herald Post, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Pimples and braces. The death grip on the steering wheel. The chicken brake on the passenger side floorboard. These are just some of the things you can still count on seeing in modern day driver’s ed classes. But not everything was meant to last: Buckle up for a quick rundown of five driver’s ed staples that have been left on the side of the road.

1. Terrifying Driver’s Ed Films

The '50s gave us some great movies: Sunset Boulevard, North by Northwest, and Signal 30. Though it may not be a title you've committed to memory, Signal 30 won a National Safety Council Award for its gory, scare-you-straight lesson. This educational film about the perils of poor driving features authentic, bloody accident footage provided by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Other movies in the same genre, like Mechanized Death and Red Asphalt, had a solid 40-year run—but they've been replaced by tamer flicks such as Young Drivers: The High Risk Years.

2. Holding the Wheel at 10 and 2

Driver's ed classes used to advise gripping the steering wheel like it's a clock with your hands at the 10 and 2 positions. But steering and airbag technology have come a long way since then. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began recommending that drivers put their left hand at the 8 or 9 position and the right hand in the 3 or 4 position on the wheel [PDF]. These placements will reduce the risk of serious injury if the airbag deploys. As cars have become safer, our old way of safer driving has become dangerous. This is what Alanis Morissette would call ironic.

3. Questionable Driving Textbooks

First published in 1936, Man and the Motorcar was the first of its kind and the go-to driver’s ed textbook for roughly 20 years. The instruction includes some relevant driving scenarios as well as outdated tips like the number of whiskey shots you can slam before getting behind the wheel. Man and the Motorcar was replaced by the dapper Sportsmanlike Driving in the 1950s. This book breaks down types of drivers and pedestrians by their state of mind. Characters like The Thwarted and The Rationalizer struggle to accept responsibility for their driving mistakes and blunders. The lovelorn pedestrian is so swept up in his newfound romantic tryst that he crosses the street without checking for oncoming traffic. The takeaway: If you see a man wandering the streets with hearts in his eyes, proceed with caution.

4. Instruction in Parallel Parking

There are two types of people in this world: those who can parallel park and those who can’t. And the latter group might be increasing its membership. Sixteen states have dropped parallel parking from their driver’s tests, citing backup cams, inefficient use of curb space, and other new-driver issues as reasons for the extinction. The world is losing an art form, and if that doesn’t break your heart, just think of what this does to a major plot line in the Corey Haim rom-com License to Drive.

5. Driver’s Ed Itself

For most of its 86-year history dating from the year classroom instruction began, driver’s ed has been a milestone in the high school experience. In the 1970s, 95 percent of America’s teenagers learned to drive in school-based driver’s ed courses, according to a survey by Volvo Car USA/The Harris Poll. Today, though, driver’s ed is being cut from high school curricula across the country. In cities like San Francisco and Miami, cost savings, budget cuts, and lack of interest seem to have stalled out this once rubber-burning extracurricular. Instructional courses can now be taken online or by private driver’s ed companies. Currently, only 32 states require driver’s ed training [PDF].