Special course teaches safe driving techniques

Safety experts call the stretch between Memorial Day and Labor Day “the 100 Deadliest Days for Teens.”

We regularly hear about the 10,000 adults who are turning 65 every day and helping swell the ranks of America’s retirees.

Matching that number is the 10,000 youngsters turning 16 every day and swelling the ranks of the driving public.

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“So many kids, so little time to teach them safe driving,” says Bill Wade, national program manager for the Tire Rack Street Survival School, which is a collaboration among members of the BMW Car Club of America Foundation, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the Porsche Club of America, and corporate sponsors such as Michelin.

There are many worthy advanced driving schools for teens around the country. Lessons are taught by professional driver-training teachers using new cars and tires.

The Tire Rack Street Survival School course differs from those in two significant ways:

1. The teens learn in the car they drive the most. “If they’re driving a hand-me-down with marginal brakes and tires, putting them in a brand new vehicle with the latest in traction control and a new set of Michelins isn’t going to replicate what their car is going to feel like on the skid pad,” says Wade. “We have them drive their own cars.” The only exceptions are older (generally pre-2005) SUVs with high centers of gravity and no stability control systems, which are considered too dangerous to be used during the training program.

2. This is an all-volunteer program. “We couldn’t afford to be transporting a full-time staff and several truckloads of automobiles across the country,” Wade says. Instead, the teaching is done by club members.

“Club driving instructors teach members how to drive safely on the track each weekend,” says Wade. “More and more they’re realizing that, as a club, there’s a way to take some of that expertise and pass it along to teens in communities where they live, devoting one weekend or two a year. And it’s not just as a civic gesture. We all have friends and neighbors who have been negatively impacted by avoidable traffic accidents.”

Details about the course are available at streetsurvival.org. At this time, there are courses planned at New Hampshire International Speedway and Stratford, CT, in September.

Course offerings are fairly standard: Controlling a skid on a wet skid pad, braking and lane changes to avoid an accident, a slalom course, and a few extras, including distracted driving, living with airbags, and sharing the road with large trucks.

Often the course pays immediate dividends.

“My daughter was an extremely timid driver,” says Wade. “She drove as if the car was made of balsa wood. I had to push her to take the course. The transformation at the end of the day was astounding. She realized what the car was capable of doing. The reality is that today’s cars are capable of terrific things, but the driver has to be part of the process.

“A few days later, she was driving down our street when a neighbor, who was fussing with a dog in the car, burst out of her driveway without looking,” Wade explains. “My daughter was looking at her first [potential] accident. And most first accidents are running into something or somebody. Instead, her course training kicked in and she avoided it by ‘stomping and steering,’ braking and swerving away in a millisecond.”

Last weekend, we were driving northbound on Rte. 95 in New Hampshire when a car passed us with the passenger leaning back with her feet on the dashboard.

Wade says that’s another thing the course impresses on young drivers. “Kids hear that’s a no-no in the classroom, but they don’t know why because they’ve never seen an airbag deploy,” says Wade. “So we set an airbag on the ground and place a small cone or water bottle on top of it. When we set it off, it sounds like a shotgun blast, and the bottle or cone goes at least 50 feet in the air. It’s a reality that hits home with both teens and parents.”

So does the tractor-trailer demonstration.

“We were conducting a course in Louisville, using a huge parking lot at a UPS facility,” says Wade. “Their lead over-the-road driving trainer came over to see what was going on. When I explained the program, he got excited and had the idea of bringing a training truck to the site, parking cars around it, and letting the students get in the cab and see what the driver can—and more importantly CAN’T—see.”

That sticker on the back of many trailers is true: “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.”

“It’s shocking to think that avoidable accidents are the No. 1 killer of our kids. Each story is heartbreaking,” says Wade, “especially when 90 percent of them are completely avoidable.”

One aspect of the course is the classroom session on distracted driving for parents and teens.

“That’s when the parents realize, ‘Gosh, I need this course as much as my kid,’ ” says Wade.

VW Sets 77.99 MPG Mark

The Volkswagen Passat TDI (clean diesel) is rated at 31 miles per gallon in city driving and 43 on the highway. Wayne Gerdes, who has made a career out of hypermiling, last week completed an 18-day, 8,122-mile trip that visited all of the Lower 48 states, achieving a Guinness World Record of 77.99 mpg, besting the previous record of 67.9 and also the hybrid vehicle record of 64.6 mpg.

The official record is for “lowest fuel consumption—48 US states for a non-hybrid car.”

Gerdes and co-driver Bob Winger, had special tires but followed the three basics of getting great mileage:

1. Plan ahead: Look for impediments or topographic changes 15 to 45 seconds ahead and use downhill momentum for the next uphill.

2. Stay away from the rabbits. Heavy braking and acceleration consume fuel at a greater rate.

3. Obey speed limits. The difference in fuel consumption between 55 and 75 mph can be 30 percent.

Etc.

Today is Miata Day on the lawn at Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline. An older Miata is an excellent choice as an entrée to the collector car hobby. They have a good history of reliability and helped create Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom philosophy … Also on tap today is a show for pre-1972 vehicles in downtown Amesbury as part of the community’s annual Amesbury Days festivities … The Rhode Island Chevy Owners Association is holding its 23rd annual All-Chevy/GMC Show at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland, RI, with awards in 47 classes. There’s even one for non-Chevrolet cars with Chevrolet engines.