Driver’s Ed for the Real World

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INSERT DESCRIPTIONA teen leaves a trail of upended pylons while navigating Toyota’s challenging “distraction” course.

What does it feel like to slam on your anti-lock brakes? What happens if you drive too fast on a slippery road? How do distractions like loud music affect your driving?

While driver’s education classes teach teens how to operate a vehicle, most of us don’t learn much about emergency driving conditions until we actually face an emergency. But a free advanced driving skills course offered by Toyota gives kids and parents a chance to experience real-world driving situations on a closed course. Participants maneuver through pylons, slam on brakes and speed around corners, all under the supervision of professional drivers.

The Toyota Driving Expectations class includes drive time on three closed courses. The first two put kids behind the wheel so they can experience how an anti-lock braking system works on both dry and wet surfaces and teaches avoidance techniques and the best way to keep eyes on the road. The last test is a challenging “distraction” course. Accompanied by a professional driver, the teen drives the pylon course while calling a friend, sending a text message and opening a water bottle. Organizers say teens are surprised how often they knock down or crush an orange cone.

The Toyota course, which is being offered this weekend in Elmont, N.Y., is unique in that it is free and also requires both parent and teen to take part in the driving experience.

Although I haven’t taken the Toyota course, I did take part in an advanced driving course a few years ago. I was amazed at how much I learned, even after more than 20 years behind the wheel. Brakes, tires and safety features have changed a lot in recent years. When I learned to drive, we were instructed to “pump” our brakes when making a quick stop. New anti-lock brake systems should be slammed down with full force. The first time I did it I was startled by the odd grinding noise it made.

Advanced driving courses are offered around the country and typically involve extensive time driving under simulated conditions on closed courses. The class I attended was by Driving Dynamics, an advanced driving school based in Little Silver, N.J. Another school, MasterDrive, was founded by a father whose daughter was killed by a teenage driver. The cost can range from free, like the four-hour Toyota course, to $400 or more for a few days of instruction.

Although the Toyota course is offered only in New York this weekend, the program will be offered again in multiple cities this fall. Go to www.toyotadrivingexpectations.com to sign up or learn more.