With teenagers driving Ford Mustangs and screeching tires being heard every few seconds, one might think there was trouble in the making. But it was the complete opposite. Teenagers were just trying to learn how to be safer drivers.
The Ford Driving Skills for Life program hosted nearly 400 teenagers and many of their parents on Wednesday and Thursday at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. The goal of the program was to make teenagers who had a permit or a new license aware of all the dangers that come with driving.
“I think you can tell teens over and over again about safe driving habits,” said Heidi Swartzloff, a Ford representative. “But until those teens are behind the wheel and they experience eye-opening things, they won’t take what you say seriously.”
The program tries to go to many regions in all 50 states and travels back to certain areas. This is the fifth time in six years the program has been in the Phoenix area, and they plan to return here next year.
In Arizona in 2012, 75 teens died as a result of car crashes. Lead facilitator of the program and former Ahwatukee resident, Mike Speck, knows that it doesn’t have to be this way.
“Those are needless deaths,” Speck said. “Those are deaths where the people were so young and had so much potential.”
The program that started in 2003 is free to teens and features four stations that focus on giving obstacles to provide awareness. The stations are vehicle handling, hazard recognition, distracted driving, and impaired vision.
The vehicle handling station, probably the most popular because of the Ford Mustangs, focused on driving and spinning out around the cones.
Brittany Carrasco, 16, said the experience was a lot different than she expected.
“It was scary because I didn’t really trust myself, but it was pretty fun once I got the hang of it,” she said. “I just want to be able to react in all situations.”
The hazard recognition station featured the drivers going around the course once, and then going around again with different hazard scenarios set up.
“We’re teaching them how to change lanes quickly and hitting the brakes when it’s appropriate because there isn’t much preparation for hazards in the real world,” said Austin Robison, a Ford representative.
The impaired driving station had the drivers drive around once, but on the second time they had to wear goggles.
“The goggles that the drivers have to wear on the second go-around are goggles that simulate how it feels to drive drunk,” Robison said.
The distracted driving station might have been considered the most important station in the program, especially with the teenage target audience.
Speck said there were a million accidents caused by texting while driving in the U.S. this past year.
“What drivers decide to do in the car can affect the outcome and making the right decisions can affect all the other drivers around,” he said. “The first time around they have to go as quickly as they can around the cones. Then on the second time around, they have to go just as quickly around the cones while texting and adjusting the radio and such. It’s impossible. That’s what we are trying to teach.”
Jaydah Ivey, 16, said that it taught her that it’s not smart to text and drive.
“At this station they were trying to get me to text and drive at the same time but I didn’t even try, it was too hard,” Ivey said.
Randy Bleicher, a Ford representative, said that though having fun is important to the program, what the teens learn from it is the most important thing.
“One of the main things we want kids to get out of this is decision-making skills,” he said. “If you make the right decisions while driving, there is no longer a need to worry.”
• Jacob Withee is a sophomore at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.