GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle, then it makes sense why teen drivers are statistically not good drivers — they lack experience. Despite that, parents can help give their teenagers the training to react appropriately when conditions suddenly change on the road.
Michigan State Police offers a defensive driving course for teenagers, with maneuvers they won’t learn in traditional driver’s education courses.
Sgt. Ryan Davis, a state trooper who trains recruits at the Precision Driving Track in Lansing, emphasized how much patience parents need with teen drivers.
“They are going to be driving your (other) kids around at some point. So, get them as much practice in with a good coach before they are able to do that,” said Davis.
He shared the three most important dangers teen drivers typically face: following too closely, driving too fast and allowing too many distractions.
“That could be friends in the car, that could be a parent texting their child while they’re driving,” Davis said. “(The training) really opens their eyes to the dangers of what can happen and how quickly bad things can happen on the road.”
Davis shared three maneuvers he teaches in the course, including one on the skid track. This track is unique because it allows police recruits to experience what it feels like to spin out on ice, snow or rain so they can figure out how to regain control of their vehicles.
The track looks like a large retention pond from a distance, but it’s a paved rectangular area surrounded by sprinklers with about an inch of water covering it. The track uses water sustainably with holding tanks underneath, so the water keeps cycling through. No other civilian can use it except the teens who take the defensive driving course.
STEPS TO REGAIN CONTROL DURING SPINOUT
Davis said the first thing he teaches teen drivers during the course is something parents can work on with them at home — hand-over-hand steering with hands at nine and three on the wheel.
“When the car goes out of control, it’s fast steering back and forth. As the car goes into a skid, we turn in the direction of the skid, looking where we want to go. Our feet are off the gas and the brakes. The brake is the last thing you ever want to hit if you’re losing control,” he said.
The last part is important because despite hearing that during training sessions, it’s the first thing he sees young and sometimes older drivers do.
“They get into a situation where something happens in front of them, and they panic break. It’s the first thing they do. They jam on that brake, then they lose friction with the roadway and they’re just along for the ride,” he said.
Braking during a skid causes a spin-out; taking the foot off the brake allows the tires to catch the road again and steering appropriately helps the driver regain control.
Traffic cones in another section of the precision driving track allow Davis to simulate other real-world scenarios, like a child running out in front of a car.
In this scenario, he teaches the driver how to brake without skidding. It involves either a solid, steady brake approach or a hard initial break, followed by taking your foot off briefly before applying pressure again while steering around the obstacle. He called it a “brake, brake off, brake, turn” approach.
Davis also teaches evasive maneuvering, which trains drivers that sometimes it’s faster and better to steer around something than to brake for it.
In this scenario, he has cones in a “Y” pattern and tells the driver at the last second whether to go left or right.
“If you’re following too closely, you’re not going to have the chance to do this. You’re probably going to hit something,” Davis said.
He said it’s important to always look in the direction you want to go and keep your hands at nine and three.
The teen defensive driving course started in Lansing but expanded last year to the Upper Peninsula and is available on the east side of the state.
State police typically have between 200 to 300 participants but are still catching up on a backlog from the pandemic.
Davis said he hopes MSP posts in other parts of the state will get trained on how to offer the course as well so that the department can train even more teenagers each year in the future.
There is currently a waitlist for the course, but parents can sign up online.