- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

Most safety specialists agree that driver education in the United States is sorely lacking in quality. Classroom instruction is basic at best, often taught by instructors without acceptable levels of experience. In-car training is usually limited to driving around suburban areas at low speeds with an instructor possessing minimal real-world driving skill.
Those who complete driver training in the United States seldom have a clue regarding how to brake in a panic stop either with or without antilock brakes steer safely around obstacles without losing control, detect and correct a skid, and properly adjust seats and mirrors for best driving advantage, even though that seems simple. The increasing teen fatalities and sky-high insurance rates are proof that the existing system is flawed.
Most European countries take driver training much more seriously. Mandatory training is both extensive and expensive, but European students are taught how to handle difficult situations, as well as to master the simple rules of the road. There, getting a driver's license isn't a given right it's an earned privilege.
So, considering how lacking driver training is in the United States, what is a parent to do to make up for the training shortfall? Perhaps BMW has at least a partial answer to the problem and a way to help parents sleep at night.
BMW is setting its sights on driver education with courses designed for teens who have relatively little experience behind the wheel of any vehicle.
Two programs, a one-day course and a two-day camp, teach young people car-control techniques that they may not have learned elsewhere.
This accomplishes two things, providing reassurance for parents while letting teens fulfill a dream of driving a premium car on a world-class training track.
Both programs are taught throughout the summer at the BMW Performance Center Driving School in Spartanburg, S.C.
According to Tom Strahs, BMW Performance Center manager, "The driving school is the ideal graduation gift, one that provides a lifetime of safe-driving skills." These teen courses are designed especially for inexperienced licensed drivers ages 15 through 19.
BMW's programs help new drivers build confidence by providing them with guidance and training to cope with everyday traffic situations, perform complex maneuvers, and respond to real-life driving emergencies, according to Mr. Strahs.
BMW's Performance Center has a road course that can be configured 35 different ways, using special features not found in most driver training programs.
For example, students learn how to control a skidding vehicle on black ice or other slippery surfaces in exercises performed on an ultrasmooth concrete skid pad. Accident avoidance maneuvers are taught on a waterwall corridor, where "walls" of water suddenly appear in front of moving vehicles. The waterwalls are created by water jets hidden in the pavement.
These jets are turned on and off by instructors to create real, but damage-proof, obstacles.
In the "New Driver" programs, students are taught the relationship between speed and stopping distances, proper seating position and how it relates to better driving, as well as active and passive safety systems: what they can and can't do to help.
Often overlooked basics, such as how to set mirrors and where to look when driving to allow time for the unpredictable, are also covered.
I watched a class all day on a Saturday in May, and the results were impressive. In the morning, the students were what you might expect: afraid to steer quickly or step down too hard on the brakes. They ran over the orange cones that mark the course and drove through (harmless) obstacles.
By the end of the day, confidence began to show. They were weaving around obstacles and using the brakes to full advantage.
That's all because they had experienced, firsthand, what worked and what didn't in safe and secure surroundings.
Sessions are limited to 12 students, with both classroom theory and hands-on experience using BMW 3 Series coupes and sedans. The cost is $300 for the one-day session and $1,950 for the two-day camp.
Students must be at least 16 years old and must have at least a learner's permit, if not a license. For a great graduation present and a bit of peace of mind, parents can get more information by calling 888/345-4BMW, ext. 4269.

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