Teen drivers learn to overcome tough situations on the road

004 Fluvanna County High School junior Sarah Trail drives the course while texting, looking in the mirror and being distracted by passengers. (WTOP/Jamie Forzato)

DULLES, Va. – The most dangerous time for new drivers is right after they receive their licenses. They’re inexperienced and uncomfortable behind the wheel, and teen drivers are three times more likely to get into a car accident than anyone else.

So this weekend, professional instructors with Ford Driving Skills for Life are giving dozens of high school students hands-on driving lessons in the Dulles Airport parking lot.

Kyle Green, program manager of DSFL, says the more quality practice time the teens get in real-life conditions, the better drivers they will be.

“We don’t want them to ever experience some of the things they’ll see here out on the road,” he says.

The controlled simulations include four skill stations: distracted driving, hazard recognition, impaired driving and vehicle handling. Students get behind the wheel of specially-equipped cars to reverse bad habits and learn life-saving maneuvers.

In the distracted driving course, teens are forced to drive a car while texting and driving, listening to loud music, and talking with passengers. Fluvanna County High School junior Sarah Trail hit five cones during her test-drive. The music was so distracting that she didn’t realize that she had slipped into neutral.

“You were hitting the gas constantly and you weren’t going anywhere,” Trail’s instructor says. “So if we were at an intersection, we would all be dead.”

“You make a mistake you’re in a ditch,” says Trail’s mother, Ann. She says her daughter is learning skills that might save her life.

Teens at the vehicle handling station drove a Mustang that was specially equipped to spin-out during hard turns. As the car skid, students initially panicked. The instructors taught them to remain calm and focus on which direction they wanted the car to travel. Drivers also sped down a hazard recognition course toward three lanes. Each lane had a green light but at the last second, two turned red. The driver was forced to swerve to get into the safe lane.

Chantilly High School junior Matthew Bade got behind the wheel during the impaired driving simulation. A police officer seated in the passenger seat instructed him to wear daytime and nighttime beer goggles while driving through a closed course.

“You couldn’t really see much because it seemed like everywhere you looked the road shifted,” Bade says. “I had my right tire on all the cones going down the first quarter of the track. It was not good. I probably would have gotten rid of a couple curbs there.”

The free three-day event ends Sunday.

Follow @JamieForzato and @WTOP on Twitter.

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