Under the watchful eye of Dodge/Skip Barber Driving School instructors, three state troopers and adults from the Housatonic Regional Valley High School, forty-two seniors were given the green light to push their cars to the limit. In a special ...
Under the watchful eye of Dodge/Skip Barber Driving School instructors, three state troopers and adults from the Housatonic Regional Valley High School, forty-two seniors were given the green light to push their cars to the limit. In a special program called Crashing Is A Bummer, the local teens took part in a pilot course created to broaden and develop driving skills beyond what is now taught in the classroom.
Per Skip Barber Racing School instructor Bob Green, "I'd rather have my kid learning over an orange cone, rather than hitting the guardrails."
Using the controlled environment of Lime Rock Park, the Crashing is a Bummer program introduced teens to a wide range of clinically important areas, such as braking, skids, vehicle dynamics, proper driving posture, and perhaps most important, "delusions of adequacy, thinking you are a better driver than you really are." Instructors readily conveyed that an understanding of vehicle dynamics and car control leads to a safer, more competent driver.
The reaction from teens was positive.
"I think its great. We just don't have a lot of experience as drivers or know how to react in emergency situations," said Sara DeProdocini, of nearby Lime Rock. "It gives us a chance to learn and make mistakes without crashing our cars."
Green contends that driving is one of the third most time-consuming activities and that many [or most] of our young drivers are ill equipped to deal with the challenges on today's roads. Green, the key developer of the program, cited some grim statistics that seemed to catch the attention of all, regardless of age. Every year, there are over 6-million reported crashes on our nation's roads resulting in 43,000 deaths. Sadly, of that total, 6,300 are teens.
"Accidents are avoidable because they are largely the result of improper driver behavior rather than a set of random circumstances," says Green. "The key to this program is addressing the common driver behaviors that often precipitate an accident."
Practical exercises were set up on auto crosses, slaloms and skidpads. Teens then deployed emergency maneuvers in Dodge Neons and Dodge Dakotas with the emphasis on accident avoidance and improving road manners. For example, on the slalom course, the program requests that drivers follow a system known as CPR -- or Correct, Pause and Recovery. Teens honed their skills by first turning into the skid [correct], slowing down [pause] and then correcting the recoil action of the springs [recovery]. During the champagne slalom, the students were timed navigating a tightly wound course with a tennis ball in a cup on the hood, the exercise designed to foster smooth driving skills.
Master sergeant of State Police Troop B in Canaan, Fred Peters, thinks highly of the course, having participated in a similar driving program. Peters is also a member of the Housatonic Youth Service Bureau and the father of a teen driver.
"A course like this makes an impact because the kids are having fun. They're doing things you're not supposed to do on the road, but more importantly, they're starting to get a feel of what can happen to a car and how to overcome problems and obstacles encountered when they're out of the road." Peters, like many here, believes that today's teens are not taught how to deal with emergencies.
In total six Skip Barber instructors including Green hosted the students for a full day at the racetrack to reinforce the principle that cars do not go out of control, drivers do.
The program will be a feasibility study for Skip Barber in hopes of creating a nationwide course available to all high school students. A classroom-only version of Crashing Is A Bummer is currently being tested in the Southeastern United States.
- Andrew Torres