Anyone walking unexpectedly onto the scene would assume something perverse about parents smiling, applauding, even quietly cheering as their 16-year-old children slid out of control at 35 miles per hour behind the steering wheel of a Chevrolet Camaro. The visitor might also wonder why these same children were being urged to accelerate BMW 325i sedans at full throttle only to mash violently on the brakes in a careering turn until the car settled to a shuddering stop.
For those parents in attendance at the recent Driver’s Edge youth driver education program conducted May 10 and 11 on the Opryland Hotel grounds in Nashville, the vision of kids in cars at the limits of control was actually something of a relief. For 20 minutes at the beginning of his presentation to an audience of about 100 new and inexperienced drivers, Driver’s Edge founder and chief instructor Jeff Payne aired a disturbing film about 16-year-old Ashley Biersach of Las Vegas. “One day short of a year agojust before Mother’s Day weekend, in fact,” Payne said, “the events of this film took place.”
Thereupon, the PA system broadcast the harrowing hysteria of a series of calls to 911 on May 9, 2002. The reason: an inexplicable single-vehicle crash on a bright, sunny day, as five girlfriends made their way back to high-school after an off-campus lunch.
Ashley Biersach lay trapped and dying in the backseat. The film relates the details of her rescue and survivalalong with two other badly injured backseat passengers. The front passenger died at the scene, the driver three days later. Ashley, despite amputation of her right leg, ongoing surgeries and present confinement to a wheelchair, vows to walk againspecifically so she can champion the cause of improved driver education for teens. By film’s end, boys in the audience, previously aloof or ripe with bravado, were fanning flushed faces with folded pieces of paper; some girls were openly crying. Parentsmoms and dadsaverted their faces to knuckle away tears.
“They need to be scared,” Payne declared in an interview prior to the event, “because that’s how you know they’re paying attention.” But Payne, a former Formula 3 racer in Europe and Japan, instinctively seems to know that fear and curiosity are opposite sides of the same coin. He is both engaging and concise when he explains what the kids are about to learnand how they will learn it. “You need to know what limits are,” he tells them, “both your own limits and the limits of your vehicles.”
With Payne’s instruction and that of others he has recruited from the ranks of motorsports, the four-hour Driver’s Edge program introduces various principles of vehicle dynamics and proper driving techniques. Then, kids are put into cars, led onto open safety courses and encouraged to experiment with what they have heard. Camaros skid, loop and fishtail on a slippery, wet skidpad; BMWs squeal, nose-dive and pitch violently side-to-side through a serpentine slalom course. Moms discover they’re suddenly relieved to see their “precious babies” experiencing extreme yet entirely realistic vehicle behaviors completely out of harm’s way. Dads begin to wonder if they themselves actually have the nerve to tackle these driving exercises when offered the chance.
“To be real honest with you,” Payne confided discreetly, “I’m not sure parents are always the best instructors for young driversthere’s just so much other baggage in that kind of relationship.” On the other hand, he considers the current state of driver education in the U.S. to be a shambles. “There’s no standardization at all. And with this new trend toward graduated driver’s licenses [as in Tennessee], the entire process of earning a full license is based on limiting kids’ experience behind the wheel. Well, accidents like the one Ashley survived are caused by too little experience, not too much.”
So it has been Payne’s mission for the last year to serve as a sort of driver-safety Johnny Appleseed, in hopes of planting a future bumper crop of skilled, young drivers with realistic appreciations of their capabilities and vulnerabilities. For 2003, Bridgestone/Firestone has been sponsoring a national tour of 11 cities where the nonprofit Driver’s Edge program is conducted for free. The tour continues into October; and a schedule, 2003 registration form and 2004 sign-up sheet are available on-line at http://www.driversedge.org.
Each session consists of a brief seated discussion, followed by driving, driving, drivingalways side-by-side with an experienced instructor. “Some parents raise their eyebrows when we introduce our instructors as race car drivers,” Payne disclosed. “They suspect that their kids will get the wrong ideathat we’re encouraging rash behavior. Well, it’s just the opposite: Safe driving is smooth driving. Smooth driving is anticipation. Anticipation is accident avoidance.” On race tracks, those principles win races. In traffic, they keep driversyoung and oldalive.
Before instruction begins, students take a quick multiple-choice test about safety and driving, on which they have been averaging an abysmal 35 percent correct. But on a different post-session test, scores rise to 85 percent on average. These results tend to substantiate Payne’s emphasis on seat time. “How can you even think about all of that stuff that fast?” one anxious young girl asked no one in particular after Payne’s introductory talk. She was able to answer herself a few laps of the skidpad later: “You really can’t think about it at all. You just have to feel it. And to lookthey tell you a lot about looking ahead. And when you do it a bunch of times, after a while it all sorta makes sense.”
There are a lot of forward-looking aspects to Jeff Payne’s vision, it seems, not the least of which is a hope of cultivating better drivers at younger ages through morenot lessstructured experience behind the wheel.
Expensive business suit ... check. New laptop ... check. Egotistical douche bag attitude ... check…
Those killers had the option not to kill someone. Now, if all you death penalty…
@AnglRdr and Battlecat: Here's what's happening while you both are congratulating yourselves on how smart…
Just to be clear - I object to the agenda and insinuations found in this…