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Bremerton driving course puts young drivers on fast track

The Nov. 20 Tire Rack Street Survival teen driving course will be held at the Bremerton MotorSports Park so students can get hands-on experience driving in extreme situations in their own cars. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
The Nov. 20 Tire Rack Street Survival teen driving course will be held at the Bremerton MotorSports Park so students can get hands-on experience driving in extreme situations in their own cars.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

Connor Barclay, 19, escaped the trail of a speeding drunk driver on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge by swerving out of its path.

Owen Huffington, 21, is able to counteract hydroplaning on the freeway in heavy rain and dodge cars that have spun out of control.

Chad Taylor, 18, uses his braking and maneuvering skills to avoid hitting cars that stop suddenly in front of him.

These young drivers have been able to save their own lives and the lives of other drivers using the driving techniques learned not in standard driver’s education courses, but in Bremerton’s Tire Rack Street Survival teen driving course, a one-day tutorial that will be held again Nov. 20 at the Bremerton MotorSports Park.

The course, developed by the BMW Car Club of America, is designed to teach people 16 to 21 years old defensive driving skills by putting them in extreme scenarios — experiences not usually offered through most driver’s education courses or the written tests required to earn a driver’s license. Exercises help teach drivers the maneuvering and braking limits of their cars and how the weight of their vehicles shift in different scenarios, so they can react to emergencies in a way that’s appropriate to their own vehicles. Instructors are volunteers from the Sports Car Club of America’s Northwest Region.

In today’s schools young drivers are encountering more simulator driving and not real road driving, said Sherri Masterson, chairwoman of the Street Survival driving course.

“This gives them a hands-on, in-the-car experience,” she said.

But, according to a 2009 Washington Traffic Safety Commission report, the leading causes of young driver fatalities in Washington are speeding, drug and alcohol impairment and distracted driving — not situations like heavy rain.

Those factors are discussed in the classroom portion of the course, but it may take awhile for teenagers to understand the risks of such behaviors because they never think an accident will happen to them, Masterson said.

“Teenagers are still teenagers. They know it all,” Masterson said, adding that some of these lessons don’t sink in until a friend experiences a collision. “You can beat it into them, but it doesn’t help. You have to find a way to get them to see the big picture.”

Though the class has been offered in cities across the U.S. since 2002, it was brought to Bremerton in 2007 by Gig Harbor resident Barclay, who found out about the event when he was just starting to drive at 16 and asked the BMW Car Club of America if it could be offered in Washington. Since then, the course has been offered nearly 10 times, including twice in February.

Barclay said he was alarmed by the injury and fatality rates of teenagers and wanted the Street Survival class to help prevent some of those.

In 2009, 16 to 20-year-olds made up the highest share of serious injuries resulting from car collisions in Washington, at almost 15 percent, according to the state Department of Transportation. That age group has the second-largest share of traffic fatalities in the state, with 12 percent.

By teaching defensive driving techniques, Barclay hopes the class will make up for what driver’s education lacks.

“Washington state driver’s education is a joke,” he said, adding that 50 hours looking in books and watching videos doesn’t give drivers the knowledge and practice they need to dodge emergencies.

Since he took the class three years ago, he has used the skills he was taught “more times than I can count.”

“Whether it’s someone talking on their cell phone and swerving out of their lane, or whether it’s a fallen tree in the middle of a road, I’ve definitely used them more than I even thought I would just driving on a daily basis,” he said.

Now, he teaches other young drivers who take Street Survival in Los Angeles, where he goes to school at Claremont McKenna College.

Though Barclay, Huffington and Taylor had their driver’s licenses when they took Street Survival, Katherine Marthucci, an 18-year-old from Renton, just had her learner’s permit and started driver’s education when she took the course last year. Her Street Survival experience was the second time she had ever been behind the driver’s wheel.

“Even remembering which pedal was the gas and which pedal was the brake was a concern for me,” she said.

Since finishing the course and obtaining her license, she has had to make several emergency lane changes to avoid hitting cars that enter the road suddenly.

“I was very happy that I had already practiced that skill,” Marthucci said.

Masterson said the course teaches things even experienced drivers don’t know, such as how to properly adjust mirrors, how anti-lock brakes work and how to steer when the car is swerving.

“Even parents walk out saying, ‘Whoa I didn’t know how to do that,’” she said.

The registration fee is $75. Participants can register online at www.streetsurvival.org.

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