How Ford is Saving Teenage Lives, One Person at a Time – “Driving Skills for Life”

by Michael Sheehan on October 25, 2011

in Auto, Event, Ford, General, Parenting, Safety, Video

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I’m scared. In 1 year, I will have a teenager. In 4 years, I will have a teenage driver. And I have two more daughters after that. Just writing the past few sentences has given me a few more grey hairs. While automobile safety has improved dramatically over the past few years, so have distractions. It’s a leapfrog race to keep drivers safe as gadgets and other things around vie for attention.

How many cars have you seen with drivers chatting away on the phone, or worse yet, texting. Taking your eyes off of the road just to read a quick text for a few seconds when hurtling down a freeway means that you have travelled several hundred feet without looking at the road. A lot can happen during that timeframe. But there are lots of other distractions apart from texting and cell phones, think about teenagers chatting away in a car or loud music playing, that is enough of a distraction alone.

As adults, we have one thing on our side though that teenagers don’t have – driving experience. But if you ask me, I think a lot of adults use this as an excuse to drive even more distracted (drinking coffee, putting on makeup, talking on the phone, playing with the radio and driving a lot of loud children). It’s a miracle that there aren’t MORE accidents.

But Ford is working on a nationwide program aim to help reduce the number of drivers age 15-19 who die every year. The numbers are pretty scary actually. Some sobering statistics:

  • 3000-5000 teens are killed on American roads every year, according to government reports
  • Most crashes occur within the first hundred miles on the road
  • There are 4 key areas that contribute to 60 percent of teen crashes: driver distraction, speed space management, vehicle handling and hazard recognition

If you think about it, training a teen early on will make them a better driver in the future, as adults, or at least, this is the goal of the Ford Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) – see www.drivingskillsforlife.com for an interactive website that can help get information not only into teens’ hands but also their parents.

Ford-Driving-Skills-for-Life-sm

This past week, I was invited out by Ford to Orlando, FL to watch this program in action. And I had one big takeaway from the event – I’m scared. What I got to see was the DSFL program. There were several teenagers on site who were participating in the program. On the roof of a parking garage were two driving courses, one for distracted driving and one for vehicle handling.

The video below (also available on YouTube directly) shows both the distracted driving and vehicle handling courses in action, as well as a couple of interviews of the teenage participants right after doing some driving:

Distracted Driving

The distracted driving course consisted of a series of chalk drawn “roads” and cones that marked the edges of the roads as well. Teenagers were instructed to drive through the course one time to get used to it. Then they were asked to drive along the same course but this time while trying to text a message or while the instructor (who are race car drivers or racing instructors) try to distract them with loud music or conversation or other actions.

HTD-training

I was told that no teen OR adult has ever made it through the course without issue when being distracted.

Vehicle Handling

The other training course that was on the roof parking lot was essentially an artificial skid pad. On it was an oval track that was fairly small. And for the auto, there was a modified Ford Mustang that had castors installed underneath the auto to allow the back-end to “skid out” as the rear of the car was slightly lifted off of the ground so that there was minimal traction for the rear wheels. The goal was to easily simulate wet, slippery or icy pavement.

HTD-castors

When your car goes into a rear wheel skid, most people don’t know what to do. The most intuitive action is to slam on the brakes and turn the wheel the direction that it feels like you are turning. However, if you do this, you will actually make matters worse. You need to do the opposite of this: don’t put on the brakes and steer into the turn.

So with this small skidpad and the modified car, the teenagers were able to go through a series of practice runs where they could actually “skid out” over and over until they were better at controlling the car.

I got to ride in the backseat of the car to see how a car spinning out felt. It was pretty scary as a passenger just feeling a car out of control and knowing how big and heavy it was and how difficult it was to control it.

Training for Every Teenage Driver?

Kudos to Ford for driving (literally) this program forward in high schools around the country. Driver’s Education is becoming worse and worse and only through privatized or additional government-sponsored programs can teens really get the training that they need to survive on these increasingly distracting roads.

Ford-Mustang-sm

It would be hard to get each and every kid who is going to be a driver this type of training and hands-on experience. But, remember, you can learn a lot via the www.drivingskillsforlife.com site and just educating yourself and your children or parents.

Disclosure Text: Ford Motors paid for my transportation and lodging for this event. My opinions about Ford and my writing are entirely my own and not those of Ford, nor subject to their editorial approval. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.

HTD says: If you have teenage drivers, spend some time with them educating and training them to be defensive drivers and help remove distractions from their driving environment.

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