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Teens burn rubber for safer roads

A teen driver splashes through the skid pad at Dakota County Technical College driving course as part of Saturday’s Tire Rack Street Survival course. Two groups of students alternated time in the classrom and time on the track as part of the course.2 / 2

There is a smell of burning rubber in the air. One by one, cars race up between rows of parallel orange cones, screech to a halt. Tires squeal. Anti-lock brakes kick in with a rapid-fire thunk-thunk-thunk.

Through the window of one car, a passenger gives a thumbs up. That’s just how it’s supposed to go.

The braking station is one of several set up Saturday morning on the driving track at Dakota County Technical College. They’re all part of something called Tire Rack Street Survival, a kind of driving boot camp put on to help new drivers get experience in extreme driving situations.

“We teach teens how to really do car control and advanced driving techniques that just aren’t part of what they learn in standard driver’s ed,” said Tyler Arvig, chief driving instructor for the course.

Elsewhere on the track young drivers weave through cones. On a large blacktop skid pad, sprinklers spray water so drivers can practice braking and weaving in wet conditions.

The lessons are a mix of classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel experience. The goal, ultimately, is to take drivers to the point where they lose control so they can get used to reacting in emergency situations.

“A lot of people never figure out where the limits of their vehicle are, so when something extreme happens they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how much they have to work with,” Arvig said. “We want them to get comfortable knowing where that limit is so when something in the real world happens … they know what to do.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration more than 4,200 drivers ages 15 to 20 are involved in fatal accidents every year.

Drivers come from all over the Twin Cities for the course. It is offered several times a year. A winter session gives drivers experience dealing with snow and ice. There will be a separate course for adults later this month.

Luke Swelland has been driving for five months and says things are going great. He spent his Saturday morning learning techniques for braking and cornering. He particularly liked driving on the skid pad.

“It’s lots of fun because you get to just floor it and slam on the brakes and feel the brakes pumping,” he said.

That might ultimately be the draw for drivers. Classroom sessions can be dry, but when drivers get out on the track and have a chance to do things they’re not usually supposed to do in a car, they start smiling.

“When they first get here they’re annoyed with their parents for having to get up this early and they’re bored,” Arvig said. “But you get them out there once and all of a sudden they’re excited to be here.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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