What parent doesn't want to give their teenage driver every advantage on what can be dangerous roads?
That's what motivated parents to take their young charges to the Street Smarts course earlier this month at Brainerd International Raceway. The day-long session, conducted by the BIR Performance Driving School, included classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction. Young drivers took to the course in their own vehicles with an instructor.
The Street Smarts course was available to drivers as young as 15, who had a permit, up to those 25 years old. Topics included emergency braking, driver distractions, simulated skids and road debris hazards, avoiding wildlife, alcohol awareness, hydroplaning, tire blow-outs and simply being aware of surroundings and of others.
Students walked back to their waiting cars at the Street Smarts course for young drivers by the BIR Performance Driving School at Brainerd International Raceway on April 18. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I thought it was fun," said 16-year-old Brandon Hron.
His father, Dan, heard about the course and took his youngest to Brainerd from their Northfield home. Hron said going through the slalom courses around the orange cones and braking while still being able to handle the car was a good learning experience. For his father, it was a way to have a professional instructor tell his son the same things he'd been saying all along.
"It gives a little reinforcement to the old man," he said and smiled.
And the courses at BIR meant instructors could simulate real driving experiences without putting the young drivers at risk on a highway. The students were taught how to avoid obstacles and learned how much a distraction, such as operating a cell phone, could affect their driving. Even looking away from the road for a second made a significant difference to the cones on the obstacle course.
For Dan Hron, it was worth the trip: "Any edge I can get to keep this guy alive," he said of his son.
Geoff Gorvin, Baxter, enrolled his daughter in the course and said students were able to wear "drunk goggles" to imitate the impairment of alcohol and then drive around a course. For the teenagers, driving with an instructor could be a calmer, less stressful experience than having a parent sitting in the front passenger seat.
Mark Utecht (left), driving instructor, worked with Nathan Kmett, 16, Baxter, at the Street Smarts course in April with the BIR Performance Driving School at Brainerd International Raceway. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Nathan Kmett, 16, Baxter, attended the course with his father, Loren. He said his mom was the force behind his attendance.
"It was really good, actually," Nathan Kmett said during a lunch break. He said the course reinforced what he learned in driver's education. Going through the obstacle courses could be a little intimidating at first.
"The driving instructors were really calming," Kmett said. "I'd recommend it. It was a great experience."
For the afternoon session, the drivers were going to practice having one wheel off the road surface and learn the best way to react. Instructors said a quick jerk at speed to get back on the road is a common way drivers lose control and roll their vehicles. Students were advised to ease off the gas pedal, gently apply the brakes and then steer their vehicle back on the road.
Driving instructor Mark Utecht said exposing young drivers to real road experiences in a controlled environment was invaluable. Utecht has 20 years of experience as a driving instructor.
"Seat time is everything with these young drivers," Utecht said, noting their limited experience. "We are trying to broaden that experience base and that can only help them."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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