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Students learn hands-on driving skills at safety program

Laurie Everett • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:19 PM

Wilson County home school student Lauren Dalton’s eyes got wide when she spun out a Mustang car in an oval course during a hands-on safe driving program Friday afternoon.

She felt lucky professional race driver Mike Speck was in the car to show her the proper technique to correct the car’s course. Dalton, and 600 other students from Wilson and other surrounding counties, participated in a three-day “real time” program called Ford Driving Skills for Life (DSFL). It’s funded in part by Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office.  Each and every one got behind the wheel of a car with specially trained professional race car drivers.

“At first I got really scared,” said Dalton, 15. “I have a driver’s permit and need to know what to do. But, then I was taught and now I feel much better.”

Dalton spent half the day at Manheim Nashville Auto Auction off Highway 109 where the program took place. She and the other students took part in five different hands-on stations designed to teach young drivers beyond what they learned in a basic driver’s education course. In addition to learning how to get a car out of a slide, the students learned hazard recognition, how not to be a distracted driver, what it’s like to be impaired behind the wheel and more.

According to program director James Graham with the Ford Motor Company Fund, the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office reports 82 Tennessee teens were killed in car crashes in 2012, with 55 of them actually behind the wheel at the time of the crash.

“A number of deadly crashes in 2013 are bringing more attention to combating this No. 1 killer of teens in the United. States,” he said.

He said the DSFL program seeks to address the main cause of car crashes with teenagers.

“It’s inexperience,” he said. 

The free program was designed by safety experts and focuses on teaching teens how to make good decisions behind the wheel. The real-world driving scenarios capture the teens’ attention and equip them with knowledge that could save their life in the future, said Graham.

In the distracted driving course, students were told to text and people were put in the car to distract them.

“People automatically think of texting, but there are other distractions,” said Graham. “We play the radio loud and distract them by talking. We teach that you can’t do two things well at one time.”

Speck is a professional driver and spent time in the car with hundreds of students during the program held in Wilson County this week.

“This program changes the kids,” he said. “They go away realizing all the things they didn’t know. Yes, we teach them what a skid feels like and how to correct it, and we teach proper technique, but what we want most is to change their perspective and show them effective decision making processes.”

Dalton’s mother Leanne was with her daughter and watched her go through the exercises.

“We were so excited this was taking place,” she said. “I want her to hands-on learn these techniques from professionals. I like that they use a variety of cars because Lauren will be driving different cars. I want her to have live experience in these things.”

Her daughter told her if not for the course, she would “have freaked and slammed on the breaks” if she lost control of her car in a skid.

“I now feel confident,” she said.

Student John Olin, 15, also got behind the wheel of the Mustang that was retrofitted to skid in turns. He only spun out once before the lesson took hold.

“That was fun, I learned a lot,” he said.

He holds a driver’s permit and will soon get his license.

“To help prevent the tragedy of traffic fatalities involving teenagers, we are happy to work with programs like Ford Driving Skills for Life,” said Kendell Poole, Director of the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office and Chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association.  “The issue of inexperience with newly licensed drivers is serious, and we are proud to provide a step in the learning process to help teens gain more experience with real-life scenarios, as well as educate parents on some best practices that will help their teens become better drivers.”

Graham said prior to each school’s arrival to the program, they attended an in school seminar by program officials.

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