As I have written in some of my past blogs, on the racetrack, I have one goal. Like every other driver in the field, that goal is to win. Off the racetrack, that mindset is focused on helping others drive more safely.
Late last year I had the opportunity to meet with all the great people from Miles Ahead about becoming an instructor for their program, which was founded to improve licensed teenage drivers' skills behind the wheel and lower the number of auto collisions and injuries caused by teenage drivers. Since I am only 17 years old and I was a teenager learning how to drive on the open road just a year ago, I couldn't think of a better fitting program to be involved with. So far, has been very rewarding!
The Miles Ahead classes actually take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and thanks to a partnership with MINI, all of the class cars are MINI Coopers! It's a really nice experience for the students to get to come to the racetrack and even drive on part of the road course for one of the training exercises. Another advantage Miles Ahead has compared to other safe driving schools is their instructors. I'm not saying this because I'm one of them, but all of the instructors are race-car drivers. Racing teaches us many various skills that we can relate to the exercises and help the students that much more.
This past weekend was my first time being an instructor, and looking back, all I can say is wow! With the way the on-track and classroom learning was set up, I was really impressed with the overall program. The best part to me was getting to work with the students, it was a serious but a fun environment. I also made a lot of friends in the process.
In the Miles Ahead program, one day is separated into two classes -- a morning and an afternoon class that each takes about four and a half hours to complete. Every class starts out with a short introduction of the instructors and briefing of the course. Once we cover the necessary information, we take the students out to the road course section of the track for the Hazard Avoidance exercises, which include a Slalom course to teach the students to get comfortable with the proper hand position at nine and three, and also get used to the solid handling of the MINI Cooper. A Lane Selection course that signals the student to select the proper lane at the last minute simulates an obstacle that could come up suddenly. This shows that trying to stop the car in time without enough room isn't the best option, and it's not the only option either! Last but not least, the students finish the lap with an ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) course to allow them to learn that the car can stop a lot quicker with a lot of pressure in case of a emergency, and that sensation from the pedal and car is just the brakes working as efficiently as possible.
After the hazard avoidance component has been completed, the students are taken back to the classroom for a presentation by a police officer, while the parents get to stay behind with the intructors and drive the MINIs on the same course that their children did. Following the presentation, we split the students into two groups -- one group will go to the skid pad and the other group will go to the course I teach, which is the distraction course. Once everyone in each group has gone, we switch groups!
The skid car is one of my favorite exercises because it is basically a MINI on a set of training wheels that slightly raises the rear tires of the car off of the ground to simulate the car sliding out of control, but at a very low speed of about 10 mph, while navigating a tight course of twists and cones. This experience teaches the students how to recover a sliding car and save themselves from a serious accident.
Since my involvement with helping put an end to distracted driving through my association with FocusDriven, I wanted to be a part of the distraction course, where we have a student drive through a course of cones and road signs while texting on their phone, and also while the instructor tries to distract them even more! Once we get to the turnaround point on the course, we have them put down the cell phone, and put on what are basically beer goggles that simulate .06 blood alcohol level. Then the student navigates their way out of the course. The surprising thing was that even though the .06 BA goggles really affect your vision, the students did a better job driving with them than they did when they were texting. This shows how dangerous it can be to text and drive. And, actually, according to my friends at the National Safety Council and FocusDriven, when a consumer is texting and driving, they are eight times more likely to crash!
Once we get back to the starting line, we have the student take off the goggles and drive undistracted, which teaches them how important it is to not be distracted behind the wheel. I'm happy to report that a lot of my students said they've never texted while driving! The public plays a major role in changing the social acceptance of the deadly behaviors of distracted driving, and I'm happy to hear that maybe we are changing some minds and people are putting down their phones while driving.
At the end of the program, the students head back to the classroom and we give them a final presentation about some of the technical aspects of a modern street car -- like traction control and anti-lock brakes -- and some little tips to keep in mind when maintaining your car over the years. As the students leave, they receive a certificate of completion of the Miles Ahead Program, and a free copy of Adept Driver's teenSMART software program that helps drivers to become better observers of the risks around them. If the teenSMART program is completed, you are actually able to take it to Allstate, AAA, and Liberty Mutual for an insurance discount that will pay for the Miles Ahead class in a little over a year, depending on your plan! If you don't have Allstate, AAA, and Liberty Mutual, in most cases if you take the certificate of completion of teenSMART to your insurance company, they will give you a similar deal.
In closing, I would just like to add that it's a great honor for me to be a part of such a great program like Miles Ahead that endeavors to lower the number of teen deaths (currently 3,000) that occur every year due to car accidents. Cellphone distracted driving now joins alcohol and speeding as a leading cause of car crashing, and programs like Miles Ahead are great platforms for all of us to be reminded of proper behavior behind the wheel!
If you would like to learn more about Miles Ahead, visit their website for more information.