A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to experience Ford Motor Company Fund's Driving Skills for Life program for teens. The award winning program is a joint effort with the Governors Highway Safety Association and gives teens the opportunity to practice safe driving skills beyond what they learn in typical drivers education classes. They get the opportunity to safely - and in a controlled environment - test their hazard recognition, vehicle handling, speed and space management, and driver distraction skills. These four areas contribute to more than 60% of all teen crashes.
There may not be a better way to highlight May as National Youth Traffic Safety Month than sharing my experience with Ford's Driving Skills for Life program (a part of Ford's philanthropic efforts), which tackles the issue of teen driver safety by helping teens to make better, safer decisions behind the wheel. I spoke with Ford executives about their successes in reducing teen driving accidents in Illinois and in specific communities around the country who've previously experienced the tragic loss of teen lives. The numbers they discussed at the event were staggering:
- 11,000 teens turn 16 each day in the U.S.
- 50% of all 16-20 year olds will be in an accident - whether minor or major
- Driver distraction contributes to 16% of fatal crashes involving young drivers.
- Teens are more distracted by devices than adults. Research showed that teens look away from the road longer than adults to dial a number.
I was thrilled to get the chance to try the safe driving courses out for myself. Eventhough I've become used to driving on four or five lane highways and zig-zagging crazed cab and delivery drivers in Manhattan, I have to admit that I was nervous when it came my turn to drive through the cones. Not because I was afraid I wouldn't do well, but primarily because the courses were set up on a pier. On the Hudson River. With little to no margin of error outside of the testing tracks.
I first tried my hand at the distracted driving course where you drive through tight twists and turns of cones. I had a slow, but decent performance the first time through. The second time I texted c2cDad while driving the curvy course. Oh yes, cones were down. . . but not as many as you'd have thought. I learned that most people either focus more on the texting and drive v-e-r-y slowly, or focus on the driving and make lots of spelling errors and texting mistakes. My texts were perfect. . . so you can guess my driving speed. ;-)
Here's video of me practicing how to - as Lightning McQueen says in Cars - "turn right to go left" and safely avoid spinning out of control while careening around a curve. Normally this course is set up in a vast wide open school parking lot, but this is New York, where space is at a premium. I was of course under the direct supervision of the terrifically skilled Juan Balboun in the passenger seat. And yes, it was FUN.
I had a blast trying my skills on the courses and can imagine the reception Ford gets when they work with teens to safely practice what it feels like when a car starts to spin. Most of us don't ever encounter that experience until we're actually IN a hazardous situation.
I LOVED the experience and even as a "seasoned" driver, I walked away more confident in my driving ability. I hope Ford's Driving Skills for Life team visits a school or community near you so you can try it first hand and get a taste or being a stuntwoman. :-) You can learn more about the program, and interactive learning website at http://www.drivingskillsforlife.com