Driver-ed teachers see ways to help teen students

Drew Groelinger demonstrates the Skid Car, a specially designed 2014 Jeep Wrangler, during a defensive training class for driver education instructors in Maple Shade.
Drew Groelinger demonstrates the Skid Car, a specially designed 2014 Jeep Wrangler, during a defensive training class for driver education instructors in Maple Shade. (MELANIE BURNEY / Staff)
Posted: August 27, 2014

Driver education teachers and instructors loaded into a special Jeep Wrangler on Monday and strapped in for on-the-job training.

In a steamy parking lot at Maple Shade High School, the specially equipped 2014 black Jeep simulated dangerous driving conditions, such as skidding on black ice in a snowstorm.

The practical training was the highlight of an all-day conference for nearly 100 driving-education teachers, who attended workshops to learn how to help teenagers become better defensive drivers.

"Everybody needs to put on a seat belt," Drew Groelinger, an expert high performance driver, told his three passengers as they climbed in. "And don't touch the console."

Groelinger carefully maneuvered the Jeep, known as the "Skid Car," as it spun in semicircles in a series of exercises. Equipped with hydraulics in the front and the rear that shifted the weight of the vehicle, the Jeep simulated various conditions in inclement weather at a lower and safer speed.

"Unfortunately, teens usually get this type of experience through on-the-job training, when they're on their own and find themselves in a bad spot," said Jason Friedman, chief executive of Drive Safer, which sponsored the training. "Once they finish panicking, if there's time left to react, they have to guess at what to do."

Drive Safer offers a six-hour basic course to teens that includes classroom instruction and hands-on driving experience. The Skid Car is included in the advanced course, for an additional charge.

Because of space restrictions in the small parking lot, teachers were unable to take turns behind the wheel of the Jeep as organizers had planned. They said the training was an eye-opener for teaching young and inexperienced drivers.

"This was a great day for driving educators," said MaryBeth Caracci, owner of the South Jersey Driving School in Moorestown, which teaches inexperienced drivers young and old.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen drivers between ages 16 and 19 are three times more likely than drivers 20 and over to be involved in a fatal crash.

Experts say inexperience is the biggest factor, something Friedman says the course offered Monday is designed to combat.

In New Jersey, students can obtain a driver's permit at 16, but must undergo at least six hours of behind-the-wheel training. They can get a provisional license at 17 and an unrestricted license a year later with a clean driving record.

"It's one thing to be sitting at a desk in a classroom," said Becky Perkins, who teaches both driver's education at Rancocas Valley High School in Mount Holly and at a driving school. "It's totally different when you get them behind the wheel."

Public schools offer driver education in the classroom. Students must pay for behind-the-wheel training at a driving school.

"I'd rather teach driver education than anything else," said Deana Moore, a teacher at Clearview Regional High School in Harrison Township. "The kids love it. You get their full attention."


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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