The most precious things in our lives aren't our possessions, they are our children. It is hard to argue with that statement. Naturally, it follows that should a youngster in your clan express an interest in getting behind the wheel, who wouldn't want to do everything possible to make his or her child as safe as possible behind the wheel?
Sad to report, over 5,000 teenagers die in motor vehicle crashes per year making it the leading killer of American youths aged 16 to 19. It accounts for more than 40 percent of fatalities in that age bracket. To reduce this number, Tire Rack Street Survival has developed a non-profit, national driver education program aimed at teaching teens the skills they need to stay alive behind the wheel. This makes it one of the best investments you can make in a teen's safety. Unlike other youth safety classes that often just stress how dangerous driving can be, this program is a fun-filled and informative, well run exciting behind-the-wheel driving school that helps develop both driving skills and self confidence.
In New Jersey, the local BMW Car Club Region, in conjunction with Tire Rack, regularly holds these driving seminars called Street Survival and as an instructor, I urge you to consider bringing your young drive to one of these events. These Street Survival classes are intense (but fun) full day classroom and behind the wheel experiences designed to increase a new driver's skills in day to day driving situations. More important, the exercises teach, in a completely safe environment, what a real skid feels like and how to react when you feel one about to happen. Unlike professional driving schools that can cost upwards to $1,000 per day, these all-day events are low cost (under $100 per student and includes lunch) because they are led by unpaid volunteer BMW Car Club certified driving instructors.
To level set the day, teen drivers start out in a classroom to get a feel for what they are going to experience and then they go out in small group sessions to a large, empty parking lot to learn how to handle a car in accident avoidance situations.
The first exercise is called threshold braking and teaches how best to use a car's anti-lock braking system (ABS) when making an emergency stop. Many people, even experienced adult drivers, have never experienced the pulsating sound and feel that comes up through the brake pedal when ABS is doing its job. In this important exercise, conducted in a safe controlled environment, the student learns to keep pressing the brake pedal and steering the car around the danger despite the unusual pulsating feel from the brake pedal. This one exercise could prevent an accident the first time the driver stops so quickly that he or she activates the ABS and could be the most valuable exercise of the day.
The second exercise is brisk driving through a slalom defined by traffic cones. The point of this is to allow the students to get a feel for what the limit of adhesion their tires is and how to anticipate taking corrective action when that limit is reached. Again, in a completely safe environment.
The most exciting part of the day is the wet skidpad. A huge section of the parking lot is wet down by a local fire department where gallons of dishwashing liquid have been sprayed. This creates a driving surface that closely approximates what its like to drive on a slippery, snowy winter road. An instructor directs the student to drive in a tight circle while he or she gathers speed. Eventually, the speed reaches the point where the front of the car washes out (understeer) or the back of the car steps out (oversteer) depending on the type of car (front wheel drive, all-wheel drive or rear wheel drive). Then, to give the student what spinning feels like, the instructor has the student complete come off the gas. This causes a rapid transfer of weight that gets often the car completely sideways - thankful in complete safety. This helps build "muscle memory" so that the young driver can get a sense of when that limit of adhesion is getting close and how to safely reduce speed and get the car back under control. It's as exciting as it sounds and is the highlight of the day.
I urge you to consider taking your teen driver to a local event - details and schedules can be found at http://streetsurvival.org