Bimmer Lite - January 2010
We are talking about PRACTICE
by Marc Biunno (aka Bimmer Lite)
Reprinted courtesy of Marc Biunno and Roundel Magazine
Allow me some words from atop the soapbox, figure somewhere around 1,000, give or take. You no doubt read Brian Morgan's feature on a recent Tire Rack Teen Street Survival Program, held in northern New Jersey for the children of BMW and MINI employees. You no doubt said to yourself, “Wow, that is an experience my teenager should have.” Or, if you're still mingling in the teen years, you might have said, “Bah, that's lame,” or something to that effect. Whatever you said to yourself, hear this: If you're a teen and you intend to drive a car, you should attend one of these events. If you're a parent of a teenager who hopes to drive a car, you should send him or her to one of these events, even if he or she doesn't want to go.
Why? It's simple: the program teaches students what driver's ed. and typical driving schools can't – what to do when crap goes wrong in a car, which it inevitably will. So simple, yet so profound. Students practice emergencies so they're not so surprising when they actually happen.
Imagine that – a program to help teenagers experience extreme situations while behind the wheel of a car so they can practice avoiding accidents. Um, duh! We've all experienced those scary moments where we're not in control of the car. How do we make it less scary and more routine? Practice, silly! As A.I. would ponder: “We talkin' 'bout practice!?” Yes, Allen – practice indeed.
And guess who made his instructorial debut at this shindig? I know, I know, just another sign that the apocalypse is truly upon us. It's one thing to entrust me with the education of 130 cherubs during an academic year; it's quite another to put a teenager-at-heart (and mind) in the passenger seat of a car doing out-of-control things with an actual teenager at the wheel.
I did not, however, take my responsibility lightly. Nobody took the event lightly. Not even Scott Goodyear, a guy who drove Indy Cars at four million miles per hour near concrete walls. He thinks it's a great idea for every kid to attend a Street Survival Program because it helped his. Hmm.
Larry Engel, President of the New Jersey Chapter and all around fantastic guy, didn't take it lightly. He fearlessly led the staff of volunteers to put on a successful event for the students, their parents, local press, and even television.
Knowing the severity and the importance of what I was about to embark upon, I was nervous meeting my student, Tyler – a tall kid, a little gangly and unsure of his new-found height, who looked like every other kid there: as if he were being forced to be there, torn from a warm Saturday slumber to make mom happy.
To spark conversation, I asked him why he was attending, and before he could answer, his mom chimed in: “...Because he was in a roll-over accident. His friend was driving – racing another friend – and they ended up in a ditch.” Say no more, Tyler’s mom. Message sent.
Tyler's story of being in a car that's driven irresponsibly and ending up in a ditch is a story that's told all too many times. Luckily for the passengers of this car, despite one ejection from the back seat, all survived. Not all do, though. The statistics about teen drivers and the risks they pose to others and themselves are frightening. The fact that every teen doesn't get the opportunity to learn how to handle a car in adverse situations is frightening, too.
Tyler, to his credit, understood the gravity of what he'd experienced. When I asked him what had happened, he knew some of the errors his friend made that day. I told Tyler that by the end of the event, he'd know every poor decision his friend made, and he'd know how to correct each one.
Amidst all of this seriousness, the program doesn't ignore the fact that driving cars properly is freakin' fun. During the braking exercise, Tyler commented on his Clubman's JCW anchors, “Man, this thing can really stop!” During the figure eight skid pad, both Tyler and I had ear-to-ear smiles plastered on our faces the whole time as he gracefully pirouetted the Mini around and around.
But this fun is rational fun – fun to be analyzed. Cmdr. Mike Metcalf (Viper) famously said, “A good pilot is compelled to evaluate what's happened, so he can apply what he's learned.” When Tyler flew through the signal to change lanes during the emergency lane change exercise, he reasoned, “I was not prepared at all to make that decision – I had tunnel vision. I assumed I was going to have to go left. I wasn't ready for anything.” Good work, Maverick.
And when I asked him to take me through the poor decisions that his friend made the day he rolled his car, Tyler started by saying, “Well, first of all, he wasn't sitting properly in the seat...” I think the lessons stuck with young Tyler. I think he'll save himself from a few errors and possibly even save his friends from some, too.
Beyond the pure fun of doing “irresponsible” things in a car, the event also becomes a voice of reason in a teen's head. Beyond screeching around turns, sliding on the skid pad, and activating the ABS, the best thing this program offers to young drivers is perspective to know the possibly deadly ramifications of decisions we make as drivers.
Is it me, or does this whole thing just make so much darn sense that it seems crazy not to attend? Parents: get on your soapbox and get your kids out to a Street Survival event. Teens: think of it as a way to get your parents to trust your skills more, and therefore, throw you a bit more freedom.
Either way, get out there and lose control so you won't when it really matters. Get out there and practice.