Chandler teens learned valuable lessons in driving during the Driving Skills for Life event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Ford Motor Company Fund and the Governor’s Highway and Safety Association partnered to give teens real-life driving experience because car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens.
“The two main issues with teen drivers are inexperience and distracted driving,” said Ford Motor Company Fund Community Relations Manager James Graham.
He said the program focuses on the technical aspects of driving in order to teach teens a set of skills they might not have learned in school or from their parents.
Since it was established in 2003, the program’s annual tour has visited 38 states.
The courses are designed to give students knowledge that could save their lives in the future by conducting real-world driving scenarios in a controlled environment, Graham said.
This year’s exercises focused on developing teen drivers’ skills by demonstrating the dangerous effects of distractions in the car, the difference in the distance it takes for a car to stop at 45 mph compared to 55 mph, and the difficulty of driving while under the influence.
Participants also learned how to steer a car safely out of a slide.
Perry High School student Jessica Quinn said she learned more from the program than she would have by verbal instruction.
“It puts it more into perspective by actually experiencing it firsthand,” she said.
After completing the distracted driving course where students were required to type a text message and maneuver the vehicle through a short course, Nicole Stevens said she was shocked by the results.
“I didn’t realize how hard texting and driving was,” she said.
A recent report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association shows teen driver fatalities are on the rise among 16- and 17-year-old drivers nationwide.
Driving Skills for Life instructor Mike Speck said the program is designed to teach students two things, knowledge of the dangers and their significance and driving skills to prevent accidents.
“We want to stop them from getting into a dangerous situation in the first place,” he said.
Another Perry student, Donovan Kudel, said he learned a lot of things that his parents never taught him, especially from the slide course.
The exercise Kudel was referring to required him to make turns in a vehicle fixed to have less traction on the back wheels with the road making the rear end of the car slide.
“I didn’t realize how touchy everything is and I probably shouldn’t slam on the gas and brake pedals as much,” he said.
Driving Skills for Life instructor of the distracted driving course Jeff Keck said the most valuable lesson he can teach teens is to pay attention and look out ahead for potential hazards.
“Don’t get distracted because things happen quicker than you expect,” he said.
In addition to Ford’s program and tips, AAA Arizona Public Affairs Specialist Stephanie Dembowski said it’s crucial to keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and mind focused on the task at hand.
“Drivers should also understand how to be a defensive driver and know crash avoidance maneuvers,” she said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s traffic data shows that in 2011 there were approximately 2,300 traffic fatalities among those ages 15 to 19.
Both the Driving Skills for Life and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have developed a list of tips and topics for parents to discuss with their children in order to help prevent car accidents and promote safe driving.
The list includes avoiding distractions such as cell phones or extra passengers, no driving above the speed limit, buckling the seatbelts of all passengers and the driver, and never drinking and driving.
• Collay Dennis is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.