After last week’s classroom session of the Accident Avoidance Workshop, I promised a follow up after Saturday’s driving session. TL;DR version: it was fantastic, frightening, and incredibly educational. That stat that they gave us last week – 98.5% of all drivers in the U.S. have approximately 10 minutes of driving instruction – really scares you when you work through these driving tests.

Parking & Slalom

First up was a slow-as-you-possibly-can drive through parking-space wide rows of cones arranged in a slalom such that no car could just do a simple turn and pass through the cones without hitting any. Experienced drivers (none of whom are 16) see quickly that a driver will have to “swing it wide” to make it through. Sixteen year olds do not have enough experience to recognize this requirement.

Without stopping after going through the cones, each driver had to navigate through an actual slalom course, with the cones again arranged in such a way that you had to turn the car nearly 180 degrees away from a cone, and then bring it back around in order to make it through the next set of cones.

The first time through the 4 parking spots, the best driver hit 7 cones. The worst hit 16 cones. Everybody failed. The lesson at this time is that 90% of all auto insurance claims are due to minor accidents that occur in a parking lot situation. It was very easy to see why.

Learn the proper way

The next time through the same exact course, a driving instructor on a radio (we had a receiving radio in our cars) walked the young drivers through the course. At each turn, the instructor told the drivers how far to actually turn. As the young drivers turned farther and farther away from their intended parking spot, you could see them all laughing and saying how crazy it was. Then the instructors gave them “spots” on their cars to measure when to turn. Each instructor walked each student through the course painfully slowly.

Then each student went through the entire course again on their own, after having learned – just once! – how exactly to properly navigate such turns. Prior to this last run through, Uncle Homer (he runs the school), told the kids that he expected a maximum of 4 cones to be hit. Remember, the first run produced dozens of dead cones. Homer told us parents separately that the kids would do the course almost perfectly, if not perfectly. He said every time he has done this exercise, the same thing happens.

On the second go-round, the total cones that all 9 teen drivers hit? One. All they needed was proper instruction and experience.

How fast were you going?

Now that the kids had a victory under their belt and were flying high, Homer’s next exercise really messed with their brains. He told us parents that’s exactly what he was doing. Each teen driver started at one cone, and accelerated as hard as their car would allow. At the right time, an instructor would wave a red flag, and the teen had to SLAM on their brakes. The purpose of this exercise was twofold:

  • Understand what “fast” actually is
  • Get to know what ABS actually feels like

The instructors had a radar gun that only they could see. As each student accelerated and then slammed to a stop, the instructor recorded their top speed, and the number of feet it took them to stop after the red flag. Then they asked each student, “How fast do you think you were going?” Homer had prepared us to know that students always guess that they are going between 75-100 MPH.

The body can sense acceleration, but the body cannot sense speed. When you are accelerating as hard as you can, your body thinks it’s going much faster than it is.¬†Without fail, each student guessed that they were going more than 60MPH. The actual top speed (BMW X5)? 31MPH. That’s right, 31 miles per hour.

Stop and stay stopped

In that exercise, my daughter’s top speed was 27 miles per hour and it took her 98 feet to come to a stop by¬†standing on the brakes so the ABS would actually kick in. Ninety-eight feet is a really long way, especially when you realize you are only going 27 MPH. That was on dry pavement on a warm day.

Have you ever heard or used the term “complete stop”? Homer despises this term so much he showed us a video of a horrific traffic accident in which one of the cars got hit, then hit another car, and then because the driver did not stay stopped, the car hit yet another car going maybe 1MPH. One of the most important exercises was to “stop, and stay stopped!” When you escape from an emergency driving condition, you should stop and stay stopped. You should stay stopped, not only because the accident could keep unfolding right before your eyes, but also because a traffic accident is a mental trauma for anyone.

My daughter wore her Fitbit, and checked her heart rate after slamming to a stop: 171. The adrenaline was flowing in this very controlled exercise. Imagine how much more so if it were a real accident?!? That’s the definition of “distracted driving”. Stop, stay stopped, regain your composure.

Full brake plus full turn

Once the students could perform a full ABS stop from full acceleration, Homer combined the first exercise with the second. Full acceleration, full stop, and full turn (e.g., turning the wheel over until it hits the lock position. The proper method of turning is hand-over-hand. If an instructor saw a student putting their hand on the inside of the steering wheel, palming the steering wheel, or otherwise not doing hand-over-hand, the student got a reprimand and had to do the exercise again.

The drill was similar to the previous drill, but instead of just stopping, each driver had to come to an ABS stop while turning the wheel completely over. The kicker was that the student did not know which way they were going to turn until the very last second when the instructor pointed left or right. The student then had to avoid all the cones while doing a full ABS stop and hard turn at the same time.

This exercise completed the students’ understanding of what it felt like to actually be in an emergency driving condition.

Parent’s turn!

Then Homer surprised us. “OK, switch drivers, and let’s see how you grown ups do!” The teens were excited and the parents were more than a little nervous. We got one shot to do this last exercise that the teens had done 4 times. I’ve been driving a long, long time, but I’ve never fully engaged the anti-lock braking system on my car. The problem is, as an experienced driver in a controlled environment, I knew what was coming, and it was very difficult not to anticipate. However, the instructors made it very difficult for us old guys to game the system. We were instructed to keep our mouths shut while our kids were driving, but the kids were not given the same instructions.

It’s not often that we parents are suddenly put on the same level as our teenagers, but that was the point. One of the results of this class is that I now have a very different vocabulary in discussing driving with my daughter. We both learned a lot, and she is now much more capable and confident behind the wheel. Furthermore, we have this shared experience of learning, and we were both students for the weekend. That changed the way we talk about driving.

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