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Student drivers learn the moves for auto safety

Monday, Nov. 19 | By Mark Grandstaff | Google+
Instructor Ed Haines adds water and vegetable oil to the course as the lessons progress in the new driver car control clinic held in the Lord Fairfax Community College parking lot Saturday in Warrenton. Adam Goings
A half hour into a driving class, instructor Ed Haines started hurling foam balls at his students.

Shocked from the fugue of watching an instructional DVD, the teens scrambled to catc h the balls. In so doing, they proved Haines’ point: an accident could happen at any moment, and drivers need to be ready.

Often, Haines said, they’re not. Faced with an imminent crash, drivers tend to lock their arms and pound the brake.

“So there we are, sliding along on our way to our doom, ” Haines said.

The premise of New Driver Car Control Clinic, a mainstay at Fauquier Hospital, is that drivers who have felt their cars operate under duress can respond more quickly in an accident.

This weekend, clinic students peeled rubber at the Lord Fairfax Community College parking lot in simulations of the crucial seconds before an accident.

The students had to learn the dimensions of their cars , to think clearly while spiked on adrenaline. Their parents, sitting in the passenger side, had to watch and bite their tongues.

“You’re doing great this time, sweetie,” said Fauquier Hospital spokeswoman Robin Earl to her daughter, MacKenzie, who navigated their Saab between tightly-placed traffic cones Saturday.

“Yet!” MacKenzie said. “You jinxed me!”

The cones took a beating, but after two hours of turning drills, MacKenzie and five other drivers at the Saturday session started to get a sense of their vehicles’ abilities to turn and brake into tight places.

After that, Haines turned up the pressure. He asked his students to accelerate and then brake until they felt the pulse of their anti-lock braking systems

“Have you ever felt ABS? You’re going to feel it today,” Haines said to Frankie Denniston, who drove a GMC Denali truck.

After that, the students tried the same trick — on ground slicked with a mixture of w ater and vegetable oil.

After that, they had to turn left or right to avoid an imaginary trailer ahead of them, as well as obstacles on either side, represented by long-suffering traffic cones.

The course, which costs $179, isn’t meant to account for every emergency driving scenario, Haines said. Nor should its students expect they are completely prepared for emergencies after graduating from the clinic.

What the clinic does, Haines said, is to show young drivers how their cars and bodies react in emergencies. It shows them practice drills through which they can overcome the instinct to freeze up before a crash.

In turn, that knowledge makes parents more confident about sending their children out onto the road, said Darlene Shear, who sent her daughter Katherine through the clinic.

The class also teaches parents how to be more patient and effective coaches for neophyte drivers.

“There’s a lot of stuff I’ve never experienced as a driver,” Shear said. “So how do I know what to do?”

At the weekend driving session, the parents learned alongside their children. Then the children got a dose of revenge as Haines told their parents to take the wheel and try the same exercises.

Earl took over for MacKenzie, braking and turning on a lubricated parking lot through a gauntlet of traffic cones. “OK, I apologize,” MacKenzie said to her mother. “That was terrifying.”
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