Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - July 6, 2007

Teens behind the Wheel

Pleasanton going the extra mile to instill safe driving habits

by story and photos Emily Atwood

"We don't call them accidents," J.P. Rosales, a representative with Farmer's Insurance Pleasanton, said at the recent town hall meeting aimed at teen driving. "Most often it's not an accident, so we call it a collision."

Rosales, members of the Pleasanton Police officers, many from the traffic division, and Commissioner Karen Rodrigue of the county's traffic division of the California Superior Court were present at the meeting to candidly speak with parents about impressing upon new drivers the importance of developing safe driving habits.

Safely maneuvering the highways and byways can sometimes be a challenge for all drivers, but Sgt. Michael Collins of the Pleasanton Police Department said teens are especially at risk.

"Simply put, it's a lack of experience," he said. "It's coupled with the fact teens are more susceptible than more mature drivers to peer pressure, increasing their likelihood of doing something common sense would otherwise dictate isn't smart."

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show 5,000 to 6,000 teens (ages 15 to 19) die annually in traffic collisions on U.S. roads, while another 300,000 are seriously injured. In a press release, Collins wrote that "many of these casualties are preventable, but not without the cooperative efforts of educators, law enforcement and parents, among others."

For many families in Pleasanton and all over the Bay Area, recent tragic events make this a sensitive subject. With several collision-related injuries and deaths of local teens, it is difficult to talk about prevention. While the past can't be changed and inexperience is not always the cause, Pleasanton Police, driving instructors and parents are taking action to help young drivers and their families avoid the heartache that can come with new drivers on the open road.

By the numbers

To put the numbers in perspective, at the meeting Collins said between March 2003 and September 2006, 2,600 soldiers were killed in Iraq, whereas 22,000 teens ages 15 to 19 died in car collisions. That's 537 per month and 18 per day.

Legislatures have come to realize the problem of collisions among young, inexperienced drivers. The disheartening statistics show thousands of new drivers, and often their passengers, suffer injuries or even death, leading many states, including California, to adopt laws that put restrictions on licenses in hopes these numbers will decrease.

In 1998, California began enforcing license restrictions, also referred to as a graduated license, upon new drivers under the age of 18. Originally the restrictions lasted for six months, but in 2006 it was extended to a year. Under the law, these drivers must be accompanied and supervised by a licensed driver who is at least 25 years old when transporting passengers under 20. They also are not allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Even though data is still coming in from states that recently enforced the law, the impact of the graduated licenses seems to be improving the harrowing statistics. Collins said the national reports he's seen have shown a 25 percent decrease in collision-related injuries for those ages 15 to 19 since the restrictions were enforced. As for California, the results show a decrease of almost 15 percent.

Hoping to see an even stronger decrease are local driving instructors, parents and law enforcement agents who are united in working to teach new licensees safe driving habits.

Driver's education of today

Along with the provisional license laws, much has changed in the process of earning the privilege to get behind the wheel. Some permit hopefuls are opting to learn the laws of the road online, instead of watching Red Asphalt 3 or hearing a lecture at a driving school. This has some licensed instructors worried.

"Half the online kids can't pass the [permit] test the first time; it takes two or three times," Greg Cook of Amador Driving School said.

The difference in the online and classroom courses, according to Cook, is the time spent absorbing the information. In his program, students must be present for four days (25 hours) of class, which also includes five 50-question tests. Online, however, Cook said the practice tests have 10 questions and it can be breezed through in a few hours. But, he added, quality learning can also depend on the school.

"A lot of schools don't teach the class," he said. "They just teach kids to pass the test. And that's not getting the message across."

Pari Eshtehardi of Driversity of Dublin, a driving school, agrees.

"The online course can't compare with our friendly classroom," she said, adding that 98 percent of their students pass the test after 30 hours of instruction.

"We train instructors to let them know how dangerous that weapon is; I mean car," she said. "It can destroy lives."

Once the permit test is completed, over a minimum six-month period student drivers must log in six hours of behind-the-wheel training with an instructor and 50 hours with a licensed parent/guardian over the age of 25.

With log sheets and student evaluation cards, Eshtehardi and business partner Nadar Amani tell parents the strengths and weaknesses of the learning driver. It also gives parents a guide on how to better instruct students once they begin the 50 hours of training.

After hours of practice, students can head to the Pleasanton DMV to meet with the infamous "Scary Larry," who administers the driving tests. Amani said while Larry doesn't really like the nickname, which is rumored to come from a California High School newspaper article, it's good to have someone ensuring only safe, capable drivers are being licensed. In fact, along with students' drawings of admiration for Driversity's instructors, Eshtehardi and Amani have a poster of Larry in the classroom, saying that he's a life saver.

Exceptions to the rule

Even though parents are responsible for 50 hours of supervised practice driving, sometimes they are unaware of the frequently changing laws. At the town hall meeting, parents expressed concern and confusion as to the exceptions to the provisional restrictions.

According to the DMV, exceptions can be made when reasonable transportation is not available and it is necessary to drive. As for driving with peers and during curfew, the law allows medical necessities, school or school-authorized activities, employment necessities, and the immediate need of a family memberˇas long as a note from a parent explains the reason and the time frame.

Commissioner Karen Rodrigue said the exceptions are clear and that any gray area is necessary to allow it to be applicable to a variety of situations.

"With any law, you have to filter through the verbiage," she said. "Go through each of the four (elements of exceptions) and make sure that the statement or letter covers each one, because the officer will look at it and see that it's legitimate to be driving."

And for those who are still issued a ticket for breaking the provisional license law, officers at the meeting reminded parents that those types of arguments are settled in traffic court, not on the street.

Legitimate excuses are very necessary as penalties and assessments added to the base fine of $35 can add up to a total citation of $161. Rodrigue went on to warn all drivers of a new assessment that adds $24 to every $10 in a base fine.

"For example, a carpool or red light violation in most parts is $100 in base fine, and with all the penalties and assessments it goes up to $361 to $371," she said. "It basically triples the ticket. The new fee that's going to be included is emergency medical assessment, will add an extra $240 to that ticket."

So whether it's violating the provisional license law or not stopping at a stop sign, she stresses the importance of having common sense for drivers of any age.

What do the driving instructors think about the graduated license?

"Thank god," Eshtehardi said. "It used to be six months. Thank god they changed it to a year."

Cook echoed her sentiments saying it's a good restriction for kids as well as parents and insurance companies. And that above all else, what motivates him to do well in his job, is that his students share the road with him, his daughter, son and new granddaughter.

"I've got a lot of responsibility to make sure I graduate safe drivers," he said.

Pleasanton takes action

While district schools no longer provide driver's education, they are partnering with police and organizations like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to provide educational programs and assemblies.

One of the programs the police have helped bring to high school juniors and seniors is the "Every 15 Minutes" presentation. While it alternates between the schools each year, it's eerily close to a real-life depiction that depicts a collision and the aftermath where drunk driving is involved. A handful of the school's students are chosen to act out the gruesome scene which involves police, medics, a coroner and even a CHP helicopter. Furthering the message, those involved in the production are taken to an overnight retreat, leaving family and friends to ponder their absence.

"'Every 15 Minutes' is a fantastic experience and we'll continue to offer it," Collins said. "But we realized we needed to get the message out earlier."

And that's where the town hall meeting comes into play. The meeting held June 7 is the first of many the police will host once a semester. Although only about 20 parents were in attendance--compared to about 100 parents attending a drug and alcohol related town hall meeting in March--Collins said the parent feedback was positive and word of mouth and more publicity will strengthen the program.

Those involved with new driver training also stress the importance of parental involvement.

"Parents have to work with their kids and provide time, not just buy a car and put them out there," Cook said. "Parents can also put restrictions on provisional licenses, like maintaining a B average."

Rosales mentioned that Farmer's Insurance provides resources for both parents and students in language easy for both parties to understand. He also said that insurance companies often offer incentives for maintaining good grades and safe driving--some of which require contracts between teens and parents.

Collins agrees that part of the responsibility falls on parents.

"Parents need to recognize they themselves have an obligation to ensure their kids are prepared for all the responsibility and liability that comes with driving," he said.

And part of that responsibility comes with equipping them with the right tools.

"In wealthier communities, such as ours here in Pleasanton, parents sometimes get caught up in trying to make sure their kid has the coolest car on the block," he said, recalling a time at Foothill High School when a 16 or 17 year old student hopped into a Porsche Boxter S. "It's an enviable ride, but not really the greatest way to ensure your kid learns safe driving habits."

Rorigue realizes it's a lot of pressure on parents and that teens need to share in the responsibility too. Beyond that, she emphasized the need for drivers, no matter the age, to practice safe driving habits.

"I would like for kids to have more common sense," she continued. "If they really thought about what they're doing and whether it's going to get them there quicker--it's just going to save them a minute and a half. But it's not limited to kids. Go on the freeway any day and sometimes it's very scary."

Teen driving resources

* Driversity of Dublin,

* Amador Valley Driving School,

* DMV Teen Driver,

* Farmer's Insurance's YES (You're Essential to Safety) program,

Provisional license restriction exceptions

When reasonable transportation is not available and it is necessary for you to drive, the law grants the following exceptions for minors to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. or to transport an immediate family member unaccompanied and unsupervised.

The law requires that you must carry a note explaining why you must drive and when the necessity will end.

*Medical Necessity: The note must be signed by your physician and contain a diagnosis and probable date when recovery will end your need to drive.

*School or School˝Authorized Activities: The note must be signed by your school principal, dean, or his or her designee and include a reason for the school or school˝authorized activity and the date when the activity will end.

* Employment Necessity: The note must be signed by your employer and verify employment and the date your employment will end.

*Immediate Need of Family Member: The note must be signed by your parent or legal guardian and include the reason and date the necessity will end.

*Emancipated Minor: No documentation is needed for this exemption, however you must have already declared yourself emancipated by completing a DMV form and by providing Proof of Financial Responsibility (SR 1P) in lieu of your guarantors' signatures when you applied for your instruction permit.



Posted by Kelly, a resident of Foothill High School
on May 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm

It seems like a lot of parents don't enforce the rule that new drivers can't drive other kids in the car for the first year they are driving. This makes is harder on the parents who want to keep all kids safe. What's up with the parents who don't enforce this rule? It also doesn't seem like the police are doing anything about this either. If a few kids were given tickets and community service for violating this rule, other kids would hear about it and take the rule more seriously.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 8:39 am

I'm a parent of a new teen driver, and I can tell you I am VERY strict about my child not having anyone else in the car. It seems the kids of parents who aren't strict get away with it. Here I am, always telling my child NO PASSENGERS, and look what happened-- my child was still getting a handle on driving our manual transmission car, and squealed the tires proceeding from a stop sign. No big deal, except-- the child was taking a sick friend home (she felt sorry for her), AND a police officer was right behind them when the tires squealed. Busted! Now we have to go to traffic court and likely pay a hefty fine. Needless to say, the child lost all driving priviledges for awhile.

Having said all that, I really do like the laws about provisional licenses. They save lives.

Posted by rules are not that hard, a resident of Downtown
on May 16, 2011 at 9:13 am

Thanks for at least doing the right thing about your child. I think that any kid caught by the police breaking that law should have their license revoked for a minimum of one year. A very large fine should also be assessed -- on the parents.

Posted by Mrs E, a resident of Pleasanton Middle School
on May 16, 2011 at 10:52 am

There is a great driving program for teens 14+. Check out the program It's a safe teen driving course held @ the Altamont Speedway. The program is held once a month and it is FREE!!! The Alameda Sheriff's also have a station there for driving practice. This month it will be held on 5/22 from 10:30-3pm.

Posted by PTOWN PARENT , a resident of Downtown
on May 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

I think that the DMV should have stickers that can be put on cars that clearly give them a visual that the person behind the wheel of that specific car has less than a year driving. The whole argument about the car isn't used by that specific child all the time should not even be brought to people attention, it shouldn't matter. I would be ok if the cops stopped me if they thought a child with less than their year was out after curfew or driving other kids when they should not have been, it is not an inconvenience when it can save lives. This option would definitely eliminate the urge for these kids a little more that now with no fear at all.

Posted by Mrs E, a resident of Pleasanton Middle School
on May 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Our next On Track Safe Teen Drive event is* Sunday MAY 22nd @ 11:00 at the Altamont Raceway 17001 Midway Rd. Tracy, CA. in the Altamont hills off of Grant Line Rd. Byron exit. We would like for first time students to be there at 10:30 in order to be registered. Remember to tell your friends about our program *(no learners* *permit or license required)* and visit us on the web at<Web Link;
*Returning Students,* we would like for you to come at 12:00 to ease some of the congestion that we have first thing in the morning.

The Alameda County Sheriffs Dept will once again be with us and will be setting up their driving course. We are very thankful to them for their continued participation and support in our program.

And we will once again have the* free* BBQ. *DONATIONS ACCEPTED*

Volunteers are always needed for these events if you would like to participate on the track, help direct the students, make sure they are using signals, keeping distance or help with the BBQ it would be greatly appreciated. Just let us know, 1 hour or the whole day helps us out.

Teens that are required to have community service hours are also welcome and encouraged to volunteer.

If you have any questions Please email or give us a call @ Ken 209.601.6523, Tom 209.612.4222 or Cheryl 925-931-1262


Posted by Jake, a resident of Del Prado
on May 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Right. So lets have teens drive alone and more teen drivers on the road. That makes sense. Sometimes the laws that are supposed to keep us safer, don't! The police seem to pick and choose what laws they are going to enforce. I have watched people run red lights while a motorcycle cop is giving a young person a ticket for not wearing a helmet. Sitting there, I had to laugh. I agree we need laws but sometimes I think CA has way to many.

Posted by bad mom, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I enforced the no one else in the car when daughter had her provisional. Her 2 best friends did not and were encouraged to drive together by their moms. Thus I'm the "bad mom". I "caught" my daughter being dropped off. Daughter lost her driving privileges and had to walk to school. I talked to the driver's mom a second time - oh, well (other girl's mom) has no problems. So I point blank said - we don't have money (other girl's family does) and we are not in law enforcement (her husband is). We will obey the laws. Daughter was grounded except from her scheduled activities. Did she do it again? Probably and probably with them. I also took down the girl's license and said I'd report it the next time I saw her driving anyone. I'm a very bad mom. <grin>

As for the law, I would prefer an earlier version when new drivers could drive siblings. That was the law when son started and it was 6 months - increased to a year which meant him too while he was provisional.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm

When my son had his provisional....I was definitely one of the few "bad" moms. In fact, at the time there were very few parents that enforced the provisional at Foothill.They thought it was easier on them and ridiculous for students to be driving separate cars when they were going to the same place. When I pointed out that IT IS THE LAW....I was looked at like I had two heads. In fact, one student I know was caught with 5 other students in the car during his provisional and NOTHING happened. No ticket, no fine, nothing! What did that teach the other 5 kids in the car.

I think we are way too lenient with driving and teens. Personally, I think students should not get their license until one year of practice driving with a learners permit and NOT BEFORE they turn at least 17. After one year of the learning permit.....I think it should be 6 months with no other passengers. I think driving in the United States is way too liberal and we have too many cars on the road. Having 16 year olds drive for a year without passengers just exacerbates that situation. Age 17 is plenty young enough to put a lethal weapon in the hands of our youth. Issue driver licenses at age 17 and not before. Require 1 year of driving with a learners permit and then 6 months no other passengers.

Posted by AVHS Dad, a resident of Stoneridge Park
on May 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm

AVHS Dad is a registered user.

Back in the dark ages when I first got my license, there were no restrictions. But kids my age got in a lot of accidents back then. Why? Because kids are kids. Most don't pay attention anyway and if there are other kids in the car it's an invitation to disaster. At best they will be distracted, at worst they will show off. There are reasons for these laws and if parents don't do their part to see they are followed, they are NOT parents.
Did my son do this? Of course he did. But I believe it was kept to a minimum because he knew we did not approve.

Posted by SAD PARENT, a resident of another community
on May 17, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I once was a parent of two vibrant teenagers. He was 16 and she was 14, until one day I decided to let my son take my daughter to an event across town. I am telling all of you parents out there that you will never ever forgive yourself if what happened to me happens to you believe me.

It was not convenient when I had to bury both my children on the same day, the same day we would have been celebrating by daughters 14th birthday.

Parents open your eyes because you should be the wiser. Children obey the laws they are enforced for reason like this.

Posted by jeanblake80, a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2014 at 7:46 am

I would have to agree. Though there are a lot of accidents, I would say most are "collisions" because they happen due to reckless driving.
Jean | Web Link

Posted by revoke the license, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm

If these kids violate the law then revoke the license for at least one year. Also fine the parents and force them into community service for allowing their out of control kids to break the law.
I was hit by a kid on a provisional license, with illegal passengers, and have suffered lifetime physical damage. Their insurance will be paying me a judgment in the millions of dollars. I only wish the parents of that kid were held financially responsible. They should be bankrupted for allowing their child to drive illegally.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Jan 16, 2014 at 5:59 pm

It's my impression that there are many responsible teens that drive. Given that there are thousand upon thousands of auto accidents in the USA annually, how many car accidents can be blamed on teen drivers?

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Jan 18, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Teen drivers: Web Link

Posted by W.L., a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Teenagers should not drive cars, period.
They do not have the maturity or judgment.

Have you seen the way adults drive?
That's pathetic enough.

Adults making a turn with children crossing in front of them have their foot on the gas, not the brake.

Parent drivers drive toward children in crosswalks, timing their acceleration so they can speed through as soon as the child is one step clear of their bumper.
I see it everyday in Pleasanton.

One day a child will suddenly turn and run back and we'll have a dead Pleasanton student because adults are too narcissistic to brake for children in our schools' crosswalks.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Jan 22, 2014 at 7:54 pm

If 18 & 19 yr. olds can be trained to kill in the US Armed Forces I see no reason that they should not be allowed to drive a car/truck.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: *

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields