Driving course may save teen lives | ParkRecord.com

Driving course may save teen lives

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

Coming soon: a one-day class that could save a student’s life, or, maybe, somewhere down the road, the lives of his family members.

Park City High School is teaming with Miller Motorsports Park, offering Teen Driving Academy, to take place graduation day, June 8.

This is no drive-like-grandma-on-her-way-to-church, driving school. The driving course, taught by former or current race-drivers teaches accident avoidance through skilled driving, controlled skids and focus, training a driver to anticipate a potentially deadly situation before it unfolds.

Perry Needham, and his son Tyler, a junior at PCHS, made it happen.

"Tyler got his license last year at age 16," Perry Needham said of his son. "I’ve always felt driver’s education is so inadequate."

About the same time, Miller Motorsports Park opened in Tooele. The motor sportspark, which has driving courses and a race track, is a high-performance training facility, which teaches racing skills — and driving skills to give motorists a chance sharing highways with sometimes not-so-attentive Utah drivers.

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Needham, who was sharpening his driving skills at the Larry H. Miller facility, made a deal with Tyler, who wanted to learn and practice racing skills. For every three months he didn’t get in an accident or receive a ticket, he would get an hour of track-time, and Tyler was all for it. "Ninety percent of teens will get in an accident, or get a ticket at some point," Tyler said.

As the Needhams realized how beneficial the driving skills they had learned could be to all drivers especially new teen drivers, they came up with the idea of holding a class just for PCHS students. They approached Principal Hilary Hays with the idea.

Hays sees it as a fantastic way to keep students safe.

"I completely agree with the idea of having young drivers take additional driving courses, beyond drivers ed. This program offers several options for families, which I also support. Auto related accidents take more teen lives than anything else. I think programs like those offered at the Miller track will make a difference in accidents, as well as auto- related deaths. I am not endorsing the business, just the services they offer to help educate young drivers in skills and techniques of driving," Hays stated in correspondence.

One possible double-edged sword resulting from the course: graduates might want to show friends what they can do in a car. Tyler Needham sees it just the opposite. "Some of my friends and I are in a school car club," he said. "They are a lot more responsible when they are on the road than kids who don’t have the driving skills." Perry Needham agrees, saying that time on a racetrack that he and Tyler experienced provides the thrills others might try to get on highways.

The Teen Driving Academy, which is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., will offer instruction in: seating and steering, vision exercises, braking techniques, driver distraction, such as cell phones, lunch, accident avoidance, skid control exercises, parking maneuvers and a course summary, with the course ending at 4 p.m. Cost of the course is $450 per student.

Adam Heller, a driver and spokesperson for Miller Motorsports Park, brought a Mustang GT race car up to PCHS to promote the Teen Driving Academy on Wednesday.

Heller said of drivers education, "It’s enough to safely get you to the corner drugstore."

"This is especially important for teens," Heller said. "It’s important to implant good driving habits from the beginning." One danger Heller sees, especially in teen driving, is cell phone use. Tyler Needham has tried the exercise of running a course of cones at the sportspark while using a cell phone. "Your perception and awareness are so impaired," he said.

Heller said students learn in a special car that simulates a skid but at only 10 or 15 miles per hour. "It takes all the emotion out of a slide," he said, adding, "It’s non threatening. You can focus of learning, not fear. Once you do it, these lessons will never leave you." He said the driving skills directly translate to snow-driving conditions.

Perry Needham hopes teens will get a chance to take the course. "If we do this course, and save a few lives, it’s worth every penny."

For more information about enrolling in the June 8 course, contact Adam Heller at (435) 277-8793. More dates will be offered over the summer. Similar classes tailored to adults are also available.

National Safety Council statistics:

Traffic crashes are the number one cause of death among children and young adults

More than 3,800 young drivers age 15-20 are killed every year in traffic crashes. More than 326,000 young drivers are injured.

Young drivers are involved in fatal traffic crashes at over twice the rate as the rest of the population.

Exceeding the posted speed limit or driving at an unsafe speed is the most common error in fatal accidents.

More than 1,000 young drivers lose their lives every year in crashes because of an impaired driver be it themselves, or someone else.