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U-Hi students experience driving dangerous situations in controlled setting

A Ford Mustang sped through the parking lot of University High School Wednesday. Its driver slammed on the brakes. The tires squealed as the driver tried to get out of a skid, sending up the aroma of burned rubber.

Good thing is was just driver education and not a real skid.

Ford Driving Skills for Life visited the school in the Central Valley School District on Wednesday. Not only did students get a chance to learn how to get their car out of a skid, but they learned just how badly they really drove while texting. They also learned what their vision would be like after drinking alcohol.

“These drills are designed so that you’ll fail,” Mike Speck told the students. Speck is a former professional race car driver who now travels the country teaching students about using common sense on the road.

“Car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death among teens in the U.S.,” Speck said. These drills were designed to show students the dangers with the hope they will think about them later, on the road.

There were three driving stations Wednesday using various cars. At the first, students purposely skidded the car into a spin and had to steer out of it.

Austin O’Neall, a junior, has been driving for a little more than two years. He said getting out of a skid was harder than he expected, especially since he’s seen it done in movies.

Drivers at the second station had to navigate a maze of cones while texting. Many of the cones were knocked down during each drill.

“I pretty much took out the back area of cones,” said Candice Kelly, a sophomore who has been driving with her learner’s permit since August.

O’Neall said he has texted while driving when he thought the message was important. The lesson Wednesday changed his mind about that.

“It’s not safe, no matter how important it is,” he said.

For the third drill, each driver put on a pair of Fatal Vision goggles to simulate vision after consuming alcohol. Before they got into the cars, they tried to kick over orange cones or high five each other, but they couldn’t do it.

“It gets you dizzy,” said Tyler Wiggin, a sophomore who has been driving for about a year. He said the goggles made everything look distorted.

He said he has never understood why some choose to get behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking. After Wednesday’s drill, he said he knows it is not a good idea.

“This solidifies that,” he said.

Bailey Wold and Aubree Winnett are both 10th-graders in the leadership class that helped bring the program to University.

Wold said the first 70 students with learner’s permits or driver’s licenses to sign up could participate, but she wasn’t one of them. She doesn’t have her learner’s permit yet.

She hoped the activities would help students learn about the dangers of distracted driving.

Winnett said she’s only had her learner’s permit for a couple of weeks, so she tried the drills, which she said were a little scary.

Speck said he hoped the drills were fun for the students and that they will remember them on the road. As part of the Driving Skills for Life program, he visited 32 high schools on the East Coast last year and plans to do about the same amount this year. The program moved on to Mt. Spokane High School in the Mead School District on Thursday.

Schools are chosen after a Google Earth search of schools with large parking lots. The program approaches the school to see if a day of driving lessons would be possible.

“It’s not just them at risk,” he said of individual drivers on the road. He said distracted drivers not only put themselves at risk, but their passengers and the people in cars around them.

“At 17, they have their whole lives ahead of them,” Speck said.