Know Your Limits
Teen Drivers Learn Valuable Skills in BFS-Supported National Program
Once again, this fine publication is giving me an opportunity to write an article. For those who aren’t familiar with me, I’m Jimmy Smith, son of the editor of this magazine. You might remember the column I wrote for Tire Review a couple of years ago about driver’s education.
Anyway, I’m writing this time about an experience I recently had, one I’ll never forget. My father was supposed to go to Phoenix, to report on a defensive driving class for teenagers. Well, as luck would have it, he was also scheduled to be in Orlando, at the same time. Because people can’t be in two places at once, Tire Review called on me to help out. Besides, who better to write an article about a driving class for teenagers than an actual teenager?
Ashley Biersach, only 16 at the time, was involved in a single car accident on her way back to school after lunch. Her friend was driving and simply lost control. It doesn’t matter how, she just did. Not knowing what to do, the driver panicked. The car slammed into a pole at 60 mph.
Ashley was in the back seat only because one of her friends called "shotgun," thereby reserving the front passenger seat. Ashley says that her friend’s simple action saved her life. So instead of sitting up front, she sat in the back with two other friends.
When the car hit the pole, Ashley was pinned and crushed from the waist down. "I could see that my right foot was severed and that my left foot was hurt pretty badly," Ashley recalls.
"The only thing I could do was try to help my friends beside me," she remembers. Amazingly, she managed to give CPR to one of the girls sitting next to her, saving her life.
The front passenger was pronounced dead at the scene and the driver of the car died a few days later. Ashley’s right leg was amputated, and she still has many more surgeries scheduled for the future.
After being released from the hospital seven weeks later, Ashley decided that it was important that other teenagers hear her story. "If I can save one person’s life by sharing my story, it will be worth it," Ashley says.
This year, the amazing Ms. Biersach joined up with the non-profit organization Driver’s Edge and Bridgestone/-Firestone North American Tire to get her message to teens all over the nation. She will travel to 11 cities, despite her doctor’s wishes, to be part of the program. Bridgestone/Firestone, along with AAA and Sprint, is sponsoring Driver’s Edge, and the tire company is providing on-site assistance for the program.
I had the opportunity to talk with Ashley at dinner the evening before the first session. In my opinion, her participation is very important to this entire program. Her story hit me so hard that I look at driving completely differently now. And you could see the impact of her story in the eyes of the participants as they left Firebird International Raceway that February afternoon.
Before I went out to Phoenix, I didn’t think too many teens would show up even though it was free. To my surprise, around 100 students showed for the first class, with another 100 expected for the afternoon class. My jaw hit the ground when I later found out that another 250 teens were on a waiting list.
As the program started, the students filed in, took their seats and began to work on a pre-test they received as they signed in. The pre-test was to measure what they already knew about driving, and another test was given after the program to see what they learned.
The sounds of sirens flooded the air, quieting the noisy teenagers gathered under a tent at the track. On a large screen, a video described Ashley’s horrific May 2002 car crash. After that attention-getting opening, Driver’s Edge founder Jeff Payne talked to the students about what they were going to experience and learn during their four-and-a-half hour session. It was obvious from the video, and Ashley’s own story, why the program was important.
Payne is a professional race car driver and instructor Tom Cruise, Jon Bon Jovi, Charlie Sheen and John F. Kennedy, Jr. have been a few of his more famous clients. He started the non-profit Driver’s Edge in 1999, and last year had about 1,200 participants even though it was held only in Las Vegas. This year, with Bridgestone/Firestone’s support, Payne expects to reach over 6,000 teens during his 11-city nationwide tour.
The program’s hands-on instruction teaches skills in evasive lane changes, anti-lock and panic braking maneuvers, and controlling a vehicle in a skid. In the classroom portion of the program, students learn about driving after a tire blowout and on icy conditions.
After Payne’s presentation, the large group was split into smaller groups, and each one rotated through a number of hands-on driving experiences. There was an evasive lane change section, where students drove BMW 325is down a straightaway at around 60 mph and then made a sudden lane change.
In the panic braking exercise, we took the BMWs around an oval, and when we reached the straightaway portion we had to accelerate. When the instructor told us to, we then had to slam on the brakes and maneuver the vehicle under control.
It took awhile for some of the students to get the hang of the anti-lock brakes, so there was a lot of squealing tires.
Those two exercises were, in my opinion at least, the two most vital elements of driving you can learn. These were situations you might face unexpectedly, and could easily lose control. The other exercises were fun and at the same time educational.
On another course, only a few hundred yards away, students drove Chevy Camaros on a wet skid pad. The idea was to get the nice new Camaros into spin and practice steering out of the spin. We learned about understeer and its cousin, the dreaded overseer.
The track was surrounded by dirt and every time I looked over there, someone had spun out in the dirt. By the end of the day, the black cars were a nice shade of brown.
After the three exercises and the classroom work, we had to take a post-test. This time around, the questions were easier. As I walked out of the tent after finishing the test, I knew that there were 100 kids who had just learned things that could save their lives.
Being a part of it made me feel great, and letting you know about this program might make you send your child, or recommend it to someone else. For every person who attends, there is one more young driver with information vital to their safety.
Driver’s Edge events have already been held in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Dallas. Next on the schedule are Nashville, May 10-11; New York, May 17; Washington/Baltimore, June 14; Detroit, July 18; Minneapolis, July 24; Oklahoma City, Aug. 16; San Francisco, Sept. 13; and Salt Lake City, Oct. 4.
If you are interested in this program, which I hope you are, you can register for one of the classes being offered at www.driversedge.org or www.bridgestonetire.com. Or you can call 877-633-EDGE (3343).
Jimmy Smith is indeed the editor’s son, and is an occasional contributor to Tire Review. He has self-professed desires to have his Dad’s job one day. He hopes this article will get him hired; his father hopes it will get him to clean up his room.