from The Textbook Letter, July-August 1999

Reviewing a textbook in driver education

Responsible Driving
1997. 366 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-653348-0.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.)

Irresponsible Publishing

Robert A. Pease

"Be careful of reading health books," Mark Twain said -- "you may die of a misprint."

I say: Be careful if you read driver-education books -- you may die of misinformation.

Mark Twain's advice was intended to be funny. Mine is not. Mine is a reaction to my reading of Glencoe's Responsible Driving, a book that teems with errors, misconceptions, self-contradictions and omissions, including some that are demonstrably dangerous. For example:

Some of the material in this book appears to mock the very title Responsible Driving. For instance: On page 84 the writers ask, "When Should You Yield the Right of Way?" -- and then they tell the student that he must yield to an emergency vehicle, to any blind person who has a white cane or a guide dog, and to "any pedestrians at crosswalks." That advice is irresponsible and inexcusable. There is no excuse for leading a student to believe that he can intimidate, or drive over, anyone who isn't blind or isn't in a crosswalk.

Some other items are just silly, dumb or careless. On page 20, for example, a boxed article titled "Building Map Skills" includes a small road map of some territory in southern California, and the accompanying text says: "You're going to travel north on highway 79 to Route 10 and then southwest to Indio." Now look at the map. It shows that a driver must go southeast on Route 10 to reach Indio. (Maybe the writers need to work on building their map skills.)

Still other items are noticeably outdated, such as the various passages in which the writers refer to carburetors and automatic chokes. (Automobile-makers abandoned carburetors and automatic chokes in the 1980s.) Even worse is the "Math Connection" box on page 288, which is a leftover from the days before truth-in-lending laws. The writers purport to show how to "Calculate the interest on a car loan to estimate the monthly payments," and they use this example: If you borrow $2000 for 24 months at 12% interest, you can repay your loan by making 24 equal payments of $103.33. Some example! It's based on an obsolete interest-computation formula that is now illegal! (If you were to pay $103.33/month for 24 months, the effective interest rate would be about 19% -- not 12%.)

In one respect, however, Responsible Driving is just as current and up-to-date as it can be. To comply with the fad for warbling about "cultures," the writers of Responsible Driving have plastered the book's pages with silly, completely irrelevant "Cultural Crossroads" items. These items don't have anything to do with driving, and most of them don't have anything to do with any culture, either. Most of them consist of drivel about "cultural" groups which are entirely fictitious. The writers have even invented a "cultural" group consisting of movie stunt-women who are deaf! [See "Meet Deaf Kitty" on page 4 of this issue.]

The AAA Should Be Ashamed

Glencoe claims that Responsible Driving is a product of the American Automobile Association. The AAA's name and logo appear on the book's cover and title page, and a note on the copyright page says that this 1997 version of Responsible Driving is the latest in a long stream of AAA publications, beginning with one that was issued in 1947.

Does Glencoe really expect us to believe that, at some time between 1947 and 1997, the AAA's staff forgot how to read a map?

Maybe not. Maybe we should believe that the people who cannot read a map, and who invent goofy "cultural" groups, work not for the AAA but for Curriculum Concepts. I say this because another note on the copyright page of Responsible Driving declares: "Editorial Development in Cooperation with Curriculum Concepts, a Division of Dialogue Systems, Inc." What does that mean? I do not know. There is no way to be sure about who actually wrote Responsible Driving, but I do know this: Because Glencoe is the book's publisher, Glencoe must answer for everything that appears on the book's pages.

Glencoe should be ashamed.

The AAA should be ashamed, too -- ashamed to see its name and logo displayed on this shoddy, sloppy book. To show the AAA what I mean, I'll cite some more things that I noticed as I examined Responsible Driving.

I have made a point of looking to see what Responsible Driving says about rotary intersections, because these intersections (which are also called traffic circles or roundabouts) can be dangerous. A student needs to know about the special hazards that they present. Moreover, the right-of-way laws pertaining to rotary intersections have been altered, in some jurisdictions, during the past few years. I see, however, that Responsible Driving doesn't mention rotary intersections at all.

Maybe the writers had to skip the topic of rotary intersections so that they would have enough space for their article about deaf stunt-women, or for their blathering about the evils of alcohol.

The discussion of alcohol and of drinking in Responsible Driving is both irresponsible and unacceptable. The writers deal in disinformation and scary double-talk, they deliberately confuse any and all drinking with alcoholism (and being a "problem drinker"), and they preach that the student must never take a drink, ever:

The only way to be sure of not becoming a problem drinker is not to pick up that first drink. . . . choosing to drink guarantees [sic] the chance [sic] of becoming addicted to alcohol. . . . There is no such thing as responsible drinking. . . . Alcoholics Anonymous is listed in your local phone book. AA is an organization for people who feel that they might have a problem with alcohol or know that they have a problem and need help. . . . Alcoholism is a disease. Its consequences are devastating, . . . . The best defense against this disease is to say "No" when you are offered that first drink. [pages 40 and 41]

This strident, quasireligious stuff goes far beyond any realistic consideration of drinking and driving, and the writers squander their own credibility. Most students, I believe, will reject the extreme claim that "There is no such thing as responsible drinking," and most will reject the suggestion that anyone who takes a drink has a disease, or a defect of character, and should immediately dash to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Most students will recognize that the writers of Responsible Driving are seeking to con them. Good! -- perhaps this will help the students to resist some of the writers' other excesses, such as the unexplained, unqualified claim that alcohol can cause "cancer."

[Editor's note: The scientific literature pertaining to the carcinogenicity of ethanol is complicated, and epidemiological studies of the occurrence of specific cancers in heavy drinkers are often weakened by the presence of confounding factors, such as malnourishment and smoking. While many questions remain unanswered, the existing literature seems to justify these statements: Heavy drinking can promote liver cancer; the combination of smoking and heavy drinking promotes oral, pharyngeal and esophageal cancer; and the combination of smoking plus drinking is more strongly correlated with oral cancer than is smoking (by itself) or drinking (by itself).]

I could cite more examples to demonstrate how the writers of Responsible Driving deal in false "facts" and lame illustrations, insult the student's intelligence, devote space to trivia while ignoring things that are important, and preach like a bunch of nannies. I believe, however, that I've said enough to show you why I regard Responsible Driving as a case of irresponsible publishing.

Robert A. Pease is a senior engineer with National Semiconductor Corporation (in Santa Clara, California). He writes a regular column -- "Pease Porridge" -- for the magazine Electronic Design, and he has published two books: Troubleshooting Analog Circuits (1991) and How to Drive into Accidents -- and How Not To (1998). He undertook the latter book after one of his relatives was killed in a traffic accident.


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