I am not a car person. I have never claimed to be one. Sure,
I spend a lot of time around car lovers, but when I accidentally
ripped the bumper off my first car by catching it on a
curb, I was as scared and clueless as any other young driver.
That’s probably why several people–whose
names I will not mention–recently decided
to sign me up for Tire Rack’s Street Survival
school, a one-day class that’s somewhere
between a high school driver’s ed course and
the racing schools of the motorsport world.
Of course, I was resistant to the idea: How
bad at driving did they think I was? But
when I arrived at the First Coast Technical
College campus near St. Augustine, Florida,
and found out just what this school would be
teaching, I realized it was exactly the driver’s
education class I needed–and should have
gotten when I first started driving.
When I got the email that I’d been signed
up for a driving class, I immediately started
having flashbacks to high school driver’s ed–a
twice-weekly, after-school snorefest filled with
textbooks, written tests, and sweaty gym teachers
who’d volunteered to yell at teenagers for an extra 6 hours a
week. It was, to say the least, an uncomfortable environment.
Although I did learn proper procedure for parking my car on
an imaginary Florida hill, I never once learned how to check
tire pressure, how to adjust mirrors, or even what ABS feels
like when it’s working.
I left that class almost exactly as nervous and incompetent as
before, so I ended up turning to other people
in my life to fill in the blanks as I experienced
problems. That strategy wasn’t very helpful,
either, since my dad was short-tempered, my
boyfriend kept telling me I was ruining the
car, and my mom preferred the abstinence
approach to car accident prevention. After a
few weeks of enduring this “advice,” I decided
that I would tune them all out and settle for
the minimal learning experiences offered by
my 5-mile commute to work.
Back to School
When I arrived at the school, I was relieved
to find myself surrounded by people in more
or less the same situation I was. It started off
with a quick classroom session outlining what
we’d be doing that day. Students were divided
into two groups: one for teens who had just
gotten their licenses or even learner’s permits, and another for
more experienced drivers.
At 20 years old, I was the oldest person in the class, which put me squarely in the second group. With
everyone sorted, it was time for the fun part.
My group left the classroom and headed out to
our cars for a preliminary check, during which
I finally learned how to check my tire pressures–
pathetic, I know. After that, we spent
an hour on the driving course with a coach.
The first few trips around the course were
pretty stressful, and I can only imagine how
nervous the younger students felt when they
hit cones or skidded off the pavement. But
I know that it was worth it. We all learned
something important from making and correcting
mistakes that cause so many deadly
accidents on the road. And once the nerves
wore off, it was a blast. Who knew I’d have
such a knack for drifting on the wet skidpad?
The most important thing I learned was
that, as the classroom instructor emphasized,
“losing control of the car” is a myth. As long
as your hands are on the wheel, your feet
can reach the pedals, and nothing major is
broken, you can control the vehicle. It’s just
a matter of knowing how. The hands-on
experience of maintaining control through
swerves, quick lane changes, braking turns,
and wet driving surfaces wasn’t just helpful–it
was really, really fun.
This course time was the best learning
experience a student could ever hope to have
in a driving class. However, the classroom
session provided a ton of equally valuable
background information about how to be as
safe as possible on the road. It may not have
been as exciting as the time spent driving,
but it was just as beneficial.
Comparing it to a public school
driver’s education class would be an
insult: The instructor made it a priority
to not only tell us what to do and
what not to do while driving, but also
to explain exactly why we should or
should not do those things.
Don’t sit too far away from the wheel
because that limits your steering and
braking abilities in case of an emergency.
Don’t let your tire pressure get too low
because that changes the footprint
and gripping ability of your tire. Don’t
lift your foot off the brakes if they start
pulsing because that means the ABS
is working. Always steer with a pulling
motion from the top of the wheel
because that uses more fine control
muscles in the arm than a pushing
motion from the bottom of the wheel.
That’s a lot of rules for a young mind
to absorb over the course of an hour or
so, but they’re much easier to remember
when they’re presented with reasoning
that makes sense.
The Bottom Line
It’s been a few weeks since my Street
Survival experience. Has this course
changed my life? Yes and no.
For me, driving is no longer just a
chore I have to complete to get from
Point A to Point B. Thankfully, I
haven’t needed to use any of the emergency
maneuvers I learned in the class,
but it’s unbelievably comforting and
confidence-inspiring knowing they’re
in my skill set.
The most immediate impact of this
class, though, has been on those around
me. My parents don’t worry quite so
much about my driving, and my boyfriend
no longer calls every few miles
to make sure I’m okay. Even if this class
never has the chance to save my life, it
will probably save me at least
a few trips to the body shop.
View comments on the GRM forums
11/24/14 2:03 p.m.
I've been involved in a program like this for several years. The students all look like they're about to be sentenced to hard labor in the morning, and are loving life by the end of it. Even the timid driver comes out with a little more confidence at the end. The best reward of the program from a provided end is hearing more than once from a parent that their child avoided an accident after attending and they credit the course for the knowledge. Small plug for the program I was with: http://www.cartct.com/teen-education-and-advanced-car-handling/
11/24/14 2:16 p.m.
I wish all students were into it by the end of the day. I've had several Street Survival students who just didn't care at all, even during/after the wet skid pad fun stuff. I don't expect them to love it so much they come back again, but if I can keep them from killing themselves/you/me later on, then I did my job as an instructor.
11/24/14 10:06 p.m.
Not a valid sample size, but my son did Street Survival (in a lifted Jeep) around 15 years or so back. One of my nephews did it a couple of years later. 2 other nephews had the opportunity but didn't partake.
My son & the nephew who did Street Survival have never had an automotive accident. The other 2 nephews have had 4 or 5 accidents between the 2 of them over the past 12 years or so.
You'll need to log in to post.