Screeching tires was a frequent sound Wednesday morning, but few flinched at the parking lot during a safe driving program.
“Screeching tires can be a good thing on a day like this,” said lead driving instructor Jim Bishop. “We want kids to get aggressive and do whatever it takes to survive the accident.”
The parking lot was a temporary classroom for the fourth annual KeyBank Key to Safe Teen Driving program that will head to 24 cities in five states.
The free two-hour program — split into a half hour of instruction and three maneuverability courses — gives teenagers experience with last-second lane changes, braking on wet roads and simulated hydroplaning in a Honda Civic skid car.
KeyBank PR Manger Dan Davis said the only way to improve any skill is through practice. Coaches prepare athletes by doing drills of anticipated situations so they know how to react, he said.
The same holds true for driving.
“It’s putting kids in situations that they don’t normally get to practice, but when they’re out there driving, you want them to know what to do,” Davis said, adding the program is also meant to raise awareness about fatal crashes.
“As a parent myself, I can’t imagine what that would be like or how you would cope," he said.
In 2009, 3,923 people age 16 to 20 were in fatal car crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of teenagers age 15 to 20.
By a show of hands, only one of 25 students in the first class admitted to signing up; the majority were volunteered by their parents.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do, butt into your life and make sure you’re safe” Bishop joked.
After the class, participants and their parents were all glad they attended the program.
Cars was the first word Vinny Malorni, 18, of Cuyahoga Falls ever said. Now that he’s behind the wheel, he thinks everyone should be required to take a course like this, especially after losing a few high school classmates in an accident.
“Just scaring people isn’t the best thing to do,” he said of the videos he watched in drivers ed. “Yeah, it’s scary, but it’s something you have to do every day.”
Jennifer Flexsteiner, of Rootstown, came with her son Robert and was glad to see him slamming on the brakes and swerving. She said she plans to petition Portage County to make this mandatory training for teenagers with moving violations rather than revoking their driving privileges, which makes practice impossible and could be a hardship for the family.
“This teaches them something, and I’d be willing to pay for that,” she said. “We need to step up to keep our kids safe.”
Robert, 18, said the practice was a way to put what he learned in driver’s school to use.
“You’re told things like pumping your breaks, but it’s different doing it,” he said. “You don’t do it unless you’re in trouble — and that’s dangerous situation as is.”
The program is sponsored by KeyBank and Kumho Tire USA. Driving instructors and the skid car are provided by The Mid-Ohio School, a professional driving school whose day-long teen defensive driving course was the model for this program.