TOOELE The basics like remembering to check your mirrors and adjust the seat still apply at the Teen Driving Academy at Miller Motorsports Park, but students also are expected to successfully steady a skidding car.
People often take the act of driving for granted, and they shouldn't when they are operating a 3,000-pound machine, said James Burk. He described automobiles as "death machines" when their operators fail to treat them with respect.
It may seem too blunt, but Burk, an instructor at the motorsports park and professional driver, thinks this frankness is necessary considering the number of teens dying on the road. It's his hope that by learning how to mitigate adverse driving situations in a controlled environment, his students will be better able deal with unexpected panic conditions that exist on the road.
"Most people think that driving is a right or a hassle," said Burke. "And the reality is, driving is a privilege. We use cars to get from A to B on public roads safely, and people just don't seem to respect that anymore."
Saturday, the Deseret News was invited to the park along with other media organizations to participate in the park's Teen Driving Academy that trains and educates young drivers. Journalists and teen drivers had the opportunity to receive professional instruction on how to handle a skidding vehicle, avoid accidents at high speeds and effectively use a car's anti-lock braking system.
"Driving as a citizen, there aren't many opportunities to test the limits of a car," said Adam Heller, sales director for the Miller Performance training center. "By practicing here, you're taking the fear of an accident away, so you can learn how to respond to those panic situations."
Heller stressed the importance of being able to prepare for dangerous circumstances or situations in a safe environment before they are met on the interstate or freeway. He said that if drivers are familiar with their car and how it reacts under certain conditions, they will have the experience to safely operate dangerous moments on the roadways.
"Here we let you experience the loss of traction in a safe spot, so you know what it feels like to skid," Heller said. "It's training to fall back on in a real-life situation because it's not completely foreign to you."
Many motorists' first experience sliding across black ice is in the dead of winter, yet at the park participants can practice losing control in 100-degree-plus heat.
"The training is helping a lot," said Demi Allen, 17, as she began revving the car engine to practice an accelerated lane change. "I'm learning how to handle some situations that used to worry me. There is a real difference between actually doing these exercises and seeing them drawn up on a white board."
Allen is a senior at Mountain View High in Orem who said she has been driving since her feet could touch the pedals. But she admits she needs more experience. She said her friends are boastful about their driving prowess, but they are probably horrible drivers because of their limited experience."Sure, teenagers may pile into a friend's car and blast the music," Allen said. "But Utah's bad drivers make matters worse because they put teens in dangerous driving situation when they forget to signal and cut us off."