Teens learn survival skills for driving

Photo by Kate Awtrey

Photo by Kate Awtrey

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The tires on her SUV squealed as Laura Lawrence skidded through a water-soaked area of asphalt and around a line of small, bright orange cones.

All the cones stayed upright and the 16-year-old Lawrenceville teen remained in control of her vehicle throughout the skid pad exercise, one of several in the Tire Rack Street Survival teen driving program.

Lawrence was one of 28 teens who participated in the program Saturday in a large parking area at the Gwinnett fairgrounds taking turns on obstacle courses and performing lane change exercises in which the drivers had to quickly navigate lanes and were able to feel the roll of their vehicle.

"We have some SUVs out here so that's very important for them to learn," said Amber Wooten, chair of the Peachtree Chapter of Tire Rack Street Survival.

A group of volunteers -- members of BMW and Porche car clubs of America -- served as instructors, with one instructor paired with each teen driver, riding along in the passenger seat to provide instructions and guidance.

"These instructors are top notch, so it's really awesome to give that student one on one time in the car all day long," Wooten said.

Unlike traditional new driver education programs based on classroom theory and simple maneuvers, the program improves driver competence through hands-on experiences in real-world driving situations.

Saturday's program was BYOV -- bring your own vehicle -- and many of the teens took to the course in the cars and SUVs they drive out on the roadways.

"They're learning the ins and outs of their car and their car control," Wooten said.

Students learned emergency braking and skid control, how to control unintended oversteer and understeer and how to avoid accidents entirely.

According to Tire Rack Street Survival, inexperience behind the wheel is the No. 1 cause of death among teens in the metro Atlanta region and the nation. Simple driving errors, which are common among improperly trained young drivers, cause the majority of fatal accidents among teens. Every year more than 5,000 teens nationwide are killed in car crashes.

"I hope that this (program) will prevent Laura and all these kids from getting into a situation that they can't recover from because they don't have the skills," said Lawrence's instructor, Mark McGriff.

"It's like nothing you can practice out on the roads," Lawrence added. "It's better than experiencing it out there with other cars around."