AD's skid pan - Fairfax beats HoCo
- From today's Washington Post (6/1/2003):
NB Fairfax has a safety training facility of its own, apparently.
A License to Drive Straight Into Trouble
Police Offer Teens Anti-Crash Course
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 1, 2003; Page C12
Sure, Ashley Moss, an effervescent high school sophomore with a
ponytail, may seem innocent enough. But statistically speaking, she
may be one of the most dangerous people out there.
She is 16 and she has a driver's license.
Yesterday, she was making screechy, swervy turns, stopping suddenly
from 50 miles per hour and then driving too fast on water-slicked
"I liked spinning out -- it was kind of a rush," she said after her
Anywhere else, the Woodbridge teenager probably would have earned a
moving violation for such maneuvers. But she and 14 other students
were in a new "accident avoidance" class that Fairfax County police
are targeting at teenagers.
A combination of inexperience, distraction and overconfidence makes
teenage drivers three times more likely to be in a fatal crash,
according to statisticians, and makes them an unending worry for
police and parents. Sixteen-year-olds, such as Moss, are the most
"The first year of driving is the most dangerous, and the next year
is slightly better, and so on to middle age," said Tim Hurd,
spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Fairfax police, who say they see far too many avoidable wrecks
involving teenagers, have created a class that takes driving skills
beyond the usual driver's education classes, which typically offer on-
road experience under normal conditions. The new eight-hour class,
which costs $200 and is conducted on the same track in Chantilly
where police train for high-speed pursuits, lets drivers experience
the kinds of situations that cause accidents. What's the best way to
stop suddenly, say, when a car cuts you off? What's the best way to
swerve around a deer? How well do cars turn in the rain?
Forget the old hand-positioning of 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock. These
teens were taught that 9 and 3, or 8 and 4, are more appropriate.
That you can feel a front-wheel skid in your fingertips through the
steering column and that you feel a rear-wheel skid through the seat.
That you should look less at the obstacle than at the space where you
want to go.
The course also brings the young drivers into direct contact with
speed and its dangers.
"Go full throttle," Officer Don Pierson says, and student Jeffrey
Willemann, 17, of Woodbridge complies. When the Chevy reaches about
58, he is instructed to stop suddenly. He does. Everyone in the car
"I thought it was fun," Willemann says afterward.
"It's about feeling the brake," Pierson explains to two startled
Around a bend in the course, Willemann approaches a series of cones
spaced at about 50 feet. He must swerve in and around each. He
strikes one, and with a faint thwip, it falls under the car.
"You just hit a kid," Pierson says.
Parents of yesterday's students seemed relieved that a class was
addressing one of their primary fears.
"Every single person in my neighborhood is asking, 'How can I get in
on this?' " said Bruce Guth, a Fairfax police lieutenant in homicide,
whose daughter Kerri was taking the class. "The truth is, the
bogeyman isn't going to get you. You're more likely to get hurt in a
Others applauded it as a valuable extension of driver's ed.
"I don't think anyone would say that after eight hours of on-road
training [in driver's ed] that they are ready for the Beltway at
night in the rain," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-
Atlantic, which has advocated restrictions on new
drivers. "Everything else you can teach young people is helpful."
One of the most common reactions yesterday among the students was
that they learned how dangerous speed can be. After one particular
wipeout that had her instructor and fellow student passengers
grimacing, the ebullient Moss seemed humbled.
"I've learned to take my foot off the accelerator," she said.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company