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Teen Drivers Spin Wheels

9/2/2009
Free crash course allows safe experience with 'icy' roads, quick maneuvers.

New drivers spent a couple of hours yesterday doing what many drivers hope to avoid forever.

The teens handled a car as it spun out of control, as if on ice. They learned how to maintain control during a slippery turn and stop. They drove evasively, as if to avoid a refrigerator tumbling from the bed of a delivery truck.

"The biggest danger in driving is not having enough experience," said Steve Bidlack, director of the Mid-Ohio School, a professional driving school that provided a free defensive-driving clinic yesterday at Hilliard Davidson High School.

"It acts as preventative medicine," Bidlack said.

Yesterday's three-hour lessons were funded by KeyBank; the Dublin-based school typically charges $350 for a full eight-hour course.

More than 4,500 teenagers died in 2005 of injuries suffered in auto accidents. And the average teen has only 50 hours of driving experience when first licensed.

Parents, many of whom feel both anxiety and excitement about their children being able to drive, signed up most of the 100 teens yesterday. Lois Frame, who works as a dietitian at the trauma center of Grant Medical Center, was one of them.

"A lot of accidents are preventable. Seeing firsthand what can happen -- it's really scary," said Frame, whose son, Jordan Landon, 15, soon will begin to drive alone.

The reality of the teens' driving skills set in quickly, as they took control of a skid car: a Honda Civic fitted with hydraulic outriggers that lift it off the ground, sending it into a doughnuts-in-an-icy-parking-lot spin.

"It was a lot of fun," said Corwin Vassaux, 17, of Hilliard.

But it was also a chance for him to understand what he did right last summer, when he was a new driver and his car hit a slick spot on the way to a friend's house. His mind blanked out, but he managed to avoid a crash.

Yesterday, Corwin practiced keeping his eyes where he wanted to go as the skid car started to swirl.

"If you look at what you're going to hit, you're going to hit it -- I guarantee it," an instructor told students.

A driving coach, who sat in the passenger seat, told Corwin to keep his foot off the brake and maybe apply some gas midspin.

"I'm going to be more ready" for the next time, Corwin said.

Taylor Anderson, 18, needs to learn to drive, but she has mostly avoided it for a year and a half, the time she has had a learner's permit. As a kid, she wiped out on various recreational vehicles. The injuries were minor, but the shock to her confidence was major, she said.

"That's still in her mind when she's behind the wheel," said her mother, Cheryl Anderson.

The mother watched as Taylor spun in the skid car. She insisted that her daughter practice more before she gets a license.

Taylor said, "Considering I didn't kill anyone, (it went) good."

sbushong@dispatch.com

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