September 2, 2014
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CCRI course retrains bad drivers

You don’t have to read too many police accident reports or spend much time on the road to realize that far too many drivers think their skills are better than they have to be.

Indeed, that is what many Rhode Islanders think when getting pulled over for a moving violation. Moreover, besides receiving a steep fine, the judge can send the guilty party to what was once called traffic school, usually a class to re-learn the rules of the road and to “serve time” for four hours to retrieve their driver’s license. No final exam. No test. No accountability.

Yet many of them will rejoin millions of Americans on the road who crash or are injured or killed in motor vehicles each year, a number that will only rise once the economy improves and more people drive. In a press release earlier this week, an Illinois educational consultant claims to have found the key to making “traffic school” stick and the Center for Workforce and Community Education (WCE) at CCRI has taken him up on the claim.

“Over the last decade, we saw repeat offender rates averaging 10 percent for those retaking the class in Rhode Island, sometimes reaching 15 percent,” says Emilio Colantonio, director of the WCE, which oversees driver education and DUI and retraining classes for the state.

“Our previous course was really a punishment with no effort to address behind-the-wheel attitude, which is the main factor for behavior and dangerous driving practices.”

Beginning in 2010, Colantonio replaced the course with a 21st century approach to teaching, learning and modifying attitudes toward driving. The new course is called Drive®Attitudes and he said the results for the first two full years of using this innovative program have been remarkable:

For 2010-11, there were no repeat traffic offenders retaking the course. For 2011-12, that ended June 30, the results were virtually the same: only one repeat offender – a statistical zero at 0.17 percent.

This all came about beginning in 2008 when Colantonio contacted Mark Horowitz of Moorshire Group, the creators of various programs that help modify driving attitudes in young drivers, adults and even children as young as 8 years old. Previously, WCE had acquired the Drive for School program used by driver education teachers and Horowitz presented half-day workshops to show teachers how teen drivers think and learn.

“We became interested in Moorshire Group’s approach to driving and why people crash,” Colantonio said. “They can have the best skills and knowledge in the world, but if a poor attitude is behind the wheel, it will likely end badly anyway.”

Colantonio asked Horowitz if he could develop a retraining course using marketing techniques and formats to address driving attitude – concepts he had trademarked as Ownership Learning®. Horowitz agreed, if he could first brainstorm with key state officials to get everyone on board for a very different perspective and emphasis on driver retraining: representatives from the departments of transportation, education, motor vehicles and the Attorney General’s office.

The approach was in line with Moorshire’s learning philosophy. Rather than have attendees sent to the training course feel like they were being punished, Horowitz wanted to make them role models as the best drivers in Rhode Island. They would each receive certificates if they passed the class – there would be a final exam – and they would fill out a course evaluation to get their input. And, during their time in class, attendees would be very active, not passive.

Attendees, in effect, teach themselves how to be safe drivers and role models for their family, their friends and their communities. Those in the classroom get in groups; come up with their own conclusions for various driving situations; and actually put on presentations in front of the classroom using 2’ by 3’ sheets of paper they draw on after group discussions and planning.

Participation is the key, as well as paying attention.

“I have trained thousands of teachers across the country for all grades and subjects,” Horowitz said. “One question I always ask them is, ‘Have you ever spent time teaching your students how to take notes?’ The answer has been a resounding ‘No!’”

Horowitz has seen this as a key educational problem, which he addresses in half-day professional development workshops for grades K-12 and college.

“That’s why most students don’t know what is important, what needs to be learned and what something means,” he said. “In this new course, attendees are given Notes Sheets with lots of white space and various questions to answer or draw as the class moves along. They also have an incentive to pay attention.”

That incentive is passing the course. Unlike the previous course, Drive Attitudes has a final exam at the end of the class. Attendees need an 80 or better to pass or they must take the course again and pay for it (they can use their Notes Sheets when taking the exam).

Given the way the course is constructed, it takes a special instructor to teach Drive Attitudes.

“We all agreed that we needed instructors who had a lot of passion, who understood the concepts being used for teaching and who could make the mental commitment to ask questions rather than just give answers,” says Colantonio. “Moorshire Group puts prospective instructors through a 12-hour certification process, and most never make it to the end,” he said. “You don’t necessarily need teaching experience as much as ‘people’ experience and an enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm.”

Instructors must also be re-certified annually, part of Horowitz’s and Colantonio’s joint commitment to quality control and keeping teachers on the cutting edge.

Colleen Case, who has been in driver education for many years, was the first Drive Attitudes instructor trained in mid-2010. Soon after, Suzanne Mascena, a mother of three with a background in marketing and lecturing, was certified to teach the course.

“From an instructor’s perspective, it is amazing to see the attitudes of participants change before your eyes,” Mascena said. “Remember, these are strangers with a chip on their shoulders. They are unhappy or angry, out a lot of money for their tickets and they fully believe they are about to be punished for a half-day or evening in a boring classroom.

“Imagine their shock when they learn the objectives of being a role model and spend much of class time in groups, talking, planning and presenting,” she said. “They usually applaud during their presentations!”

Once the course was underway, Horowitz and Colantonio demonstrated Drive Attitudes to the Traffic Tribunal Magistrates to explain why it was different and results-oriented. Thanks to the magistrates, the number of attendees has increased after a downward trend for several years.

“The support from the judicial system is important if we are to modify driving attitudes among drivers to reduce the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities,” Horowitz said. “This has truly been an inter-departmental state effort to help citizens become safe drivers.”


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