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  • By Lisa Jevens

Ramp Up Your Teen's Driving Skills at a Teen Driving School


Parents with a teen driver know the odds are stacked against their child the minute they hand over the car keys.

Just because your teen has passed a state license test does not mean your role has ended, and your child is "good to go." There is a lot you can do going forward to make your teen a better, safer driver. First of all, parents must model good driving behavior.

The Allstate Foundation found 80 percent of teens cite their parents as having the most influence over their newly developing driving habits. So if you don't use a seat belt every time, or if you can't stop calling and texting while driving, you are greenlighting those behaviors for your teens.

Those two basic habits are hugely important because about half of teens killed in crashes were not wearing a seat belt, according to the National Safety Council. Using a cellphone makes the driver four times more likely to crash. An estimated 25 percent of car crashes today involve cellphone use.

There are other sobering statistics that parents may not be aware of. For example, the presence of a single young passenger - even a sibling - increases the chances of a deadly crash by 44 percent, due to the increase chance of distraction. The fatal crash rate of 16-year-olds is nearly twice as high at night, the NSC says. So you may want to limit passengers and night driving at first.

Experts suggest drawing up a driving contract with your teen that contains your family rules for using the car, including consequences for breaking them.

Even if your teen follows all the rules, there is an underlying factor that puts all young drivers in danger: inexperience. Teens crash most often because they are inexperienced; not because they take more risks behind the wheel, a 2011 study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found.

How can a teen safely gain experience? One way is advanced instruction beyond the typical driver's ed training.

BMW offers a Teen Driving School at two Performance Centers: The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California, and another in Spartanburg. South Carolina. There, professional instructors using new BMW sedans teach advanced driving techniques to teens.

The Teen Driving Schools go beyond basic driver education by preparing teens to handle unexpected driving hazards in the safest way possible.

"This is not parallel parking or turn signals," says teen driving instructor Derek Leonard. "It's all about making good decisions and judgments behind the wheel."

The Teen Car Control course begins in the classroom where students are taught the science of driving.

"We start by talking about technique. grip. tires. weight transfer and proper positioning," Leonard says. "We emphasize real-world pragmatic physics. We teach the kids about how a car really works, why it skids, how to diagnose problems. Then we do exercises on the track that relate to what they learned in the classroom."

For example, students navigate water hazards and slalom courses, and learn proper braking, stability control, and cornering.

The danger of distracted driving is not just taught; it's experienced.

"One of our tracks has hidden curtains of water that fire out of the road bed, and they have to dodge them," Leonard says. "We have them drive it once with both hands on the wheel, then a second time while they are answering questions on the walkie-talkie in the car. They always do worse the second time.

"This drives home the point, better than any statistic. of how distractions are a problem, Leonard says.

When is a good time for a teen to take additional driving training?

The most dangerous time of a teen driver's life is the first 12 months after receiving a license, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Leonard agrees that although any 15-year-old with a learner's permit can take the Teen Car Control Course, it's best for them to have some miles in their rear view mirror first. Three to six months on their permit is ideal. Leonard says.

The one-day course costs $775. and the two-day course costs $1,295. "For about the price of a high-end iPad, you can teach your child something that will pay off for the rest of their lives," he says.

Originally published in the Los Angeles Times brand publishing special section Ultimate Drive on December 6, 2015.

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