Teen drivers take a safety course in street survival

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By Sean Barron



Teresa Jindra had high trepidation about whether her two children would be comfortable driving, but you could safely say that her attitude has taken a 180-degree turn.

“You’re getting intense training in what amounts to a few minutes in a regular driving class about what could happen,” the Twinsburg woman observed, referring to Sunday’s annual Tire Rack Street Survival teen driver safety class in Boardman Park. “It eases my mind as a parent.”

Jindra’s 16-year-old children, Arty and Maria, were among the teens who participated in the challenging 15-year-old program, which featured a variety of challenging extreme simulations to help improve driver competence, confidence and maneuverability via hands-on experience and potential real-world situations.

Car crashes are the leading killer of teens and young adults age 15 to 20, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Program sponsors and primary funders were the Mahoning Valley Sports Car Club of America, Tire Rack of South Bend, Ind., and the BMW Club of America.

Arty, Maria and the others weaved their own vehicles between cone configurations on the large obstacle course in simulated situations that required them to brake quickly and handle slippery turns. The adverse conditions were to allow them to develop a greater sense of how to react to a potential hazard such as a deer running in front of them, better understand and control vehicle weight transfer, learn how to correct skidding and see air-bag demonstrations, noted Brian Vondran, a Mahoning Valley SCCA trustee.

“They need to understand who’s around them and minimize the potential of anything going bad,” Vondran said, adding the students also were taught the importance of maintaining proper tire pressure, including checking it monthly, and being alert for unusual car sounds.

Making such a course more urgent is the problem of distracted driving, such as texting, talking on a cellphone or looking down to switch radio stations. An estimated 80 percent of accidents are preceded by a mere three seconds of inattention, noted Reed Kryder, a classroom instructor, who also pointed out that a vehicle traveling 55 mph goes 88 feet per second.

“I think I can wait until I get to my destination, because once you pick up the phone, there’s a greater chance to get into an accident,” observed Arty, who recently earned his driver’s license and said he hopes to be a race-car driver, thanks to having taken part in the course.

“It was stressful at first, but over time, it got better,” said Maria, who was nervous initially about having to make quick turns. “I feel I will be more ready for anything out of the ordinary.”

At one point, instructors mixed dish soap and water to create slippery conditions similar to wet or snow-covered roads. The teens were challenged to drive three times in a circle without striking the cones, as well as to properly recover and compensate in the event of a skid.

Up to that and other tasks such as sudden braking was 17-year-old Justin Bell of Beaver County, Pa., who came with his mother, Nancy Eck.

“I learned how to control skidding,” said Justin, who earned his driver’s permit about nine months ago and is preparing to earn his license next month. “It’s interesting to lose control on purpose so you learn to regain control.”

Justin added he felt the experience Sunday better equipped him with ways to maintain control of his vehicle and avoid accidents. He also denounced texting while driving, saying that sending a message to someone is far less important than avoiding placing other drivers and pedestrians at unnecessary risk.

“[The course] gives me peace of mind. It teaches him how to handle the car in ways that I can’t teach him,” Nancy said. “It gives me added confidence with him on the road.”

For Teresa Jindra, perhaps the most valuable aspect of what she called the “lifesaving” course was the added peace of mind that her son and daughter will be safer behind the wheel, she said.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for them,” she added.

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