“It is a comprehensive teen safe driving program,” said Jim Graham, community relations manager, Ford Motor Company Fund, of the free program, which took place over three separate days earlier this month. “The sad reality is that the number one killer of teens is vehicle crashes. Over More 6,000 in the U.S. annually; over 174 in Michigan in 2004.”
Most of these fatalities, he noted, occur shortly after a teen receives his or her license.
“Frankly, it’s due to inexperience,” he said. “So we developed a program that looks at (what were identified as) the key areas of inexperience.”
The teens (and some parents) who participated in the program learned how to handle a skidding car on a wet road (vehicle handling), how to react to a sudden obstruction ahead (hazard recognition), how to maintain the proper amount of space behind other vehicles (space management), and how to navigate a slalom course (speed management).
The core of the program is a comprehensive interactive website, drivingskillsforlife.com. Graham said that because teens use the Internet so extensively, everybody across the country can access the website, which provides modules in each of those four areas. The modules are similar to what teens learned at the Michigan Proving Grounds.
Some 25 professional drivers from the U.S., Canada and Mexico taught the driving safety skills. Some instructors have racing experience.
“We’re not teaching racing, but these people know how to control vehicles, and they’ve been instructing in addition to racing,” said Graham.
Alexis Jackson, 16, an incoming junior at Renaissance High School, found out about the Driving Skills for Life program while at a college tour. She currently has her level two license.
“So far, I’ve done the swerve exercise and the braking reaction exercise,” she said during a break, referring to hazard recognition and space management. “At first, it’s a little intimidating, but after you warm up to it, it turns out to be really fun.”
The Driving Skills for Life program began in 2003, but Graham said it has moved up to the next level in the last two years. Ford and Graham have gone on the road with similar events across the country.
As to why there were so few programs of this type in the past, Graham pointed out that driver’s education is no longer offered in many schools. As a result, kids go to independent companies to get their driver’s licenses.
“There’s no national certification program for any of those companies, so the fact that driver’s education is no longer a focus of most schools is an issue,” he said. “Auto companies like Ford Motor Co., and groups like the Governor’s Highway Safety Association encourage people to get involved,” he said.
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