Consider that the hardest part of earning a driver’s license is the parallel parking test, and you get a pretty good idea how many gaps there are in our system of driver’s education. True, most states require driver’s ed, with some classroom instruction and anywhere from six to 50 hours of supervised experience behind the wheel. But most driver’s ed courses don’t teach the kind of emergency driving maneuvers people need to bail themselves out of trouble.

The insurance industry has been slow to promote defensive driving courses, and few companies offer discounts for graduates, citing a lack of data supporting their benefit. But there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that such programs can give people the confidence and experience to avoid accidents. These five are among the best and combine classroom instruction with experience in the driver’s seat:

Advanced Driving Dynamics. At the Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, Cal., the instructors of Advanced Driving Dynamics use a hands-on approach to teach students proper braking techniques, what to do when a car goes into a skid, and methods for handling other emergencies that occur on the road. Call 714-974-4233 or visit Cost: $350 for a one-day course.

BMW Teen Driving School. At the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg County, S.C., students get hands-on experience in accident avoidance and how to control a vehicle in slippery conditions. They are also taught the basics, such as how to properly position the seat and adjust mirrors. Call 888-345-4269 or visit . Cost: $400 for one-day; $700 for the two-day course.

Various chapters of the BMW Car Club of America Foundation sponsor Street Survival Teen Driving School , which lets teens explore the limits of their own car while practicing emergency maneuvers on a closed course. Coaches ride shotgun throughout the day and teach teens how to respond to tricky situations while behind the wheel. Check the Web site ( ) to see when instructors will be visiting a city near you. Cost: $125 per student for a one-day course.

The Mid-Ohio School. At the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, your teen can participate in the Honda Teen Defensive Driving Program. After a classroom session, drivers get behind the wheel of a Honda Civic EX Coupe to experience a wet-surface braking drill, instruction on emergency lane changes and accident avoidance, in addition to a skidding drill that simulates icy, snowy, or rainy conditions. Call 877-793-8667 or visit . Cost: $350 for a one-day course; discounts are available to students with a 3.0 GPA or better and if more than one family member enrolls in the school.

Dodge/Skip Barber Driving School. The New Driver Program at the Dodge/Skip Barber Driving School teaches braking techniques, handling a skid, and changing lanes in an emergency. In addition, your teen will be taught to drive a standard shift car, how to parallel park, and proper backing-up techniques. Road etiquette is also emphasized. Classes are offered at five locations: Daytona International Raceway, in Daytona, Fla., Lime Rock Park in Lime Rock, Conn., Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Cal., Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. Call 800-221-1131 or go to . Cost: $695 for a one-day course.

Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. Using a Mustang GT, Cadillac CTS or your own car, teens learn proper skid control, braking and cornering techniques, as well as accident avoidance. The school is located in Chandler, Ariz., and offers one- or two-day packages. It’s the priciest of the classes offered here, but students get more driving time, never have to share a car, and get intense training at one of the best facilities with some of the most experienced instructors in the business. For information and registration, call 800-842-7223 or go to . Cost: $895 for one day; $1,595 for the two-day course.

© 2004 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc.