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Teaching teen drivers

Parents are no longer on their own in Clatsop County

Students on the North Coast have been living without a driver education program for a few years since programs were phased out of the schools and the instructor in Seaside retired. Now parents and teens can get the crucial support they need at this milestone with the opening of Freedom Driver Education. Based in the Seaside-Astoria area, the new independent driving school offers a special program for teens 15-17 years of age. The first course kicks off July 23.

For any new driver, regardless of age, the first year or two behind the wheel is the riskiest due to lack of experience. FDE’s teen driver course is designed specifically to make up for that lack of experience by teaching things like perceptual development, the physics of driving, and zone control. These advanced skills are built upon the basics like managing turns and other maneuvers, understanding traffic laws in real life, and being prepared for emergencies.


Instructor Pamela Cromwell is certified by the DMV and approved by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to teach the teen driver course. Students get at least 30 hours of classroom instruction and 12 hours behind the wheel. With this approved course, the DMV requires parents to provide only 50 hours of supervised driving practice, instead of 100, and students can skip the drive part of the DMV test. While parents are still vital to helping their teens learn to drive, they don't have to go it alone.


“Parents are always surprised by what their kids don’t know or can’t do well, like simply stopping or making a right-hand turn,” Cromwell said. “And then they realize they’re having difficulty explaining to their child how to do it right. Then there’s frustration, maybe arguing … it can be stressful. That’s one reason it’s really helpful to have a program to follow that takes you and your teenager through a comprehensive training, from basics to the skills and habits that reduce your risk of a car crash.”

Compared to other drivers, people aged 16-19 are three times more likely to wreck the car they’re driving, and two out of three of those crashes are fatal. Part of that is due to high risk behaviors like texting, speeding and drinking. Being unable to see or recognize, judge and respond to hazards is another big factor.


“Studies are divided as to whether or not driver education makes teens safer,” Cromwell said, “but I think it’s better to educate teens and let them make their own choices than it is to leave them vulnerable to mistakes they don’t even know they’re making.”


The ODOT-approved curriculum delivered by Freedom Driver Education is different from the "driver’s ed" many parents may have taken. Recognizing that today’s teenagers don’t buy into scare tactics, the course focuses on positive actions teens can take to be safe and to keep their friends safe.


“Research shows that teens understand they are vulnerable and are well aware of many risks,” Cromwell said. “So giving them strategies and skills can be a powerful motivator for teens.”

The State of Oregon has shown great commitment to improving teen driver safety, first by implementing the graduated licensing program and, second, by making driver education affordable. The state provides a subsidy to approved providers like Freedom Driver Education that cuts the usual course fee nearly in half. In many states and even in parts of Oregon, “driver’s ed” can cost upwards of $500-$900. Freedom Driver Education offers the ODOT-approved course for $290. There is also an additional discount for low-income families. It looks like this commitment is paying off as Oregon’s safety ranking for teen drivers went from 30th in the nation last year to 18th this year, according to an insurance industry study.


Parents interested in getting a teen driver into the summer course (July 23-Aug 31) or an upcoming course for the fall should log on to or call 503-744-7555.