Recently I was invited by Bridgestone to the Teens Drive Smart Tour which had a stop in Baltimore. For those that are not familiar with Teens Drive Smart it is an initiative by Bridgestone to encourage teenagers to drive safely and make better decisions on the road. The Teens Drive Smart Tour does this specifically by helping American teenagers get driving skills that they would not get in normal driver‘s education.
The Teens Drive Smart Tour has several different driving courses that go over what ABS brakes feel like, how to avoid accidents, and controlling a car that is sliding out of control. This is all done in a safe environment with a trained and skilled racing instructors riding shotgun. In addition there is a texting module and they talked to the kids about vehicle dynamics and how to maintain you car. Sounds like fun, right? Ahh, not everyone thinks that.
Matt Jaskol, who helps lead the Teens Drive Smart Tour events said, “90% of the kids that come out here were dragged here by their parents.” (This was a bit surprising for an auto writer to hear.) Jaskol was happy to tell me at the end of the day 90% of the teens say they would come back for a Teens Drive Smart event again, because they knew what is it was about.
Even something as simple as knowing what it feels like when you brake hard and the ABS (Anti-Lock Brakes) engages is not something that if a parent is teaching you to drive. “When most people engage the ABS they think there is something wrong with their car.” said Burt Friselle, one of the driving instructors for the program. Since it’s not something that normal driver‘s education goes over, it is not that surprising.
The two other driving courses, accident avoidance and controlling a sliding car, are not such obvious skills. In both courses something that is stressed is to “Look where you want the car go to.” For the accident avoidance course you step on the gas pedal as hard as you can then avoid and impending obstacle with a quick turn. Most kids I noticed did not have a problem but some waited too long or didn’t correct the car quick enough.
On the skid pad some teenagers did fine but others slide out of control and did not manage to get BMW though the two designed green cones. One of the Bridgestone press reps told me, “At one of our events parents cheered when kids did a 360 in the car!” which I thought was pretty funny. I guess some people don’t get the idea behind Teens Drive Smart.
I asked kids who were participating what they thought of whole program. I usually got a one word reply, “Fun!” When I walked around to the different driving courses and saw friends comparing how each other did with their crazy hand motions. It was pretty clear they were having fun. “This is great!” is what most parents said about Teens Drive Smart.
The day is setup well thought but is quite similar to another program that Bridgestone used to sponsor, Driver’s Edge. Driver’s Ege is similar to a program to the Teens Drive Smart Tour but they have added an interesting new module for texting.
The kids drive golf carts around a tight course of cones not much wider than the cart. Then you are tasked with driving around the course while texting. You can see how many cones you knocked down, because you definitely will, while driving the golf carts the second time around. Matt Jaskol said that when they racing instructors did the course while texting all of them hit cones too.
A nice touch they include is in car cameras and microphones that record the kids when they are doing the driving modules. The video of the teenagers is then recorded onto a USB drive which they can take home to show their friends and family. It’s a great idea and great keepsake participants of the Teens Drive Smart Tour can have.
While the program is well thought out and definitely necessary there are a few things people should understand. The 2013 BMW 3-Series (with Bridgestone Potenzas… duh!) is going to handle a lot better than whatever mid-size sedan you have. Also the time in the cars learning the driving skills is not that mcuh. When I did the exercises I felt like I would need at least 1-2 months of practice to be able to truly avoid an accident. The Teens Drive Smart Tour provides a value for free though. You even get a nice emergency kit, T-Shirt, and baseball hit for showing up.
While the Teens Drive Smart Tour is like Driver’s Edge, I really don’t see anything wrong with having several of these types of programs. Ford has Driving Skills for Life and Kia recently announced they are starting a similar program for teens.
Since more teenagers are killed in car accidents every year than guns, alcohol, and drugs combined it’s great to see Bridgestone being proactive in trying to help reduce car fatalities with the Teens Drive Smart Tour.