WESTFIELD This fall parents will have the opportunity to enroll their teenagers not only in Driver's Education but also Skid School, a driving program designed to teach teens accident avoidance and defensive driving skills.
Skid School was started by Sandy Stevens of Stevens Advanced Driver Training. While teaching State Police and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) accident avoidance training in Vermont, he realized that teens were the ones that needed the training the most, according to Brett Bogart, director of operations and co-owner of Stevens Advanced Driver Training.
"You are more likely to crash on the first day you drive than any other day until you reach your mid-80s," Stevens said. "Where are those crashes coming from? We believe they're coming from inexperience."
According to Bogart, Skid School emphasizes teaching teenagers the realities of the road and how to get the most out of their cars in an accident situation.
"When teens go to Driver's Education the focus is on teaching the rules of the road, and what we do is a 100 percent different focus," Bogart said. "We teach things like what happens when a deer jumps into the road and how to avoid the accident."
Skid School is a one-day course for four and a half hours, at a price of $300, where teens go one-on-one behind the wheel with an instructor in the passenger seat, according to Robert Denney, foundation director of Massachusetts Auto Dealers Charitable Foundation.
The students are in the vehicles for 75 percent of the course, Denney said, learning various techniques along with a classroom component. Mobile classrooms are brought to the training sites, where instructors teach the teens with Power Point presentations and a course syllabus.
According to Bogart, the teens are taken through several drills at the sites that will teach them various defensive driving techniques.
Bogart said that the first drill gives the students an understanding of brakes. They are told by their instructor to drive in a straight line at 50 mph. Once the student sees the first set of cones they must begin to brake hard and then come to a full stop by the time they reach the second set of cones.
Bogart added that most teens and even their parents have never used their brakes this aggressively before but that it is a good way of understanding the brake's capabilities.
The second drill takes students through the slalom where they weave in and out of cones in order to teach them smooth consistent turns. They perform this exercise so many times that then it becomes a muscle reflex, Bogart stated.
The third drill is the emergency lane change, which according to Bogart is the most important drill the students do all day. The teens are instructed to drive 60 mph down the runway and when they come to the center of the lane they hit the brakes. A light on the dashboard will then tell them which direction to turn. They will then drive around a barrier and stop as fast as they can on the other side of the barrier.
"This drill allows them to learn how to get the most out of braking with a smooth consistent turn by giving them the ability to avoid the accident," Bogart said. "But if they can't avoid the accident it teaches them how to take the severity out of the accident."
The fourth drill teaches the students about tailgating. The students decide on a proper following distance and then the drill begins: an instructor drives the lead car while two trailing cars are driven by teens. They are driving at 50 mph when the lead car slams on the brakes and the two trailing cars go flying by the lead car, Bogart stated.
"This teaches them that the [trailing] cars that are following the lead car too closely and don't have enough reaction time [to stop]," Bogart said. "We use that as a platform to know what the correct following distance is."
Skid School also teaches teens about road rage, when to change their tires, tire pressures, snow tires and about hydroplane situations.
"We need to teach them not only skills to be safe in the car but also the proper equipment they need to keep themselves safe on the road," Bogart said.
According to Denney, there are four cars used in each session of class. There are 15 teens per class and two sessions per day. The students are instructed by professional drivers, many of whom race cars professionally on the weekends. Students in this area are taken to Westfield Airport because at least a half-mile track is needed for the training.
"They need to learn how to control their car because kids are not given this training in Driver's Education," Denney said. "They really need to know how to perform these maneuvers at highway speeds because most teens do not get much training out on the highway until after they receive their license."
According to Bogart, 6,000 teens die each year in car crashes and 300,000 are injured.
"We need to create awareness around this problem and hope that parents will take it seriously," Bogart said. "While parents are very worried about drug use and that is very serious, the most dangerous thing that teens are doing by far is getting behind the wheel. They don't know what to do when things go wrong and we are giving them the skills."
For more information go to www.skidschool.org.