By Christopher Britton
When initially approached to be involved in the Bridgestone Canadian Winter Driving Training program with my teenage son, I fully expected a marketing ruse.
But rather than a cleverly disguised attempt to sell me tires, my son and I were treated to a well thought-out, real-world approach to winter driving, specifically geared towards young adults.
Whatever dad! A school for teens
Most of us fondly recall a time when we knew everything, were certain of our own immortality, and were perplexed by the bland existence of the embarrassing people we were forced to introduce as “our parents”.
Hmm, karma is a…
Let me introduce my son, Keagan. He’s 19 and in college, studying to be a mechanic. He is a very patient and supportive son, as he teaches me about technology and helps me with my, err, second language (I find myself slipping words like “sick” and “swag” into conversations with peers, usually met with raised eyebrows…).
Of the dozen or so other young adults participating in the course, he was one of the ‘eldest,’ and had the most driving experience. There was a diverse cross-section of ages and genders represented, including a girl with a cast on her right arm and a young man who had passed his G1 test only four days prior.
Class time before track time
Act one was in-class instruction alongside the Mosport Driver Development track northeast of Toronto (the school’s also run at the Toronto Motorsport Park, west of Hamilton, Ontario). It was apparent early on that some of the teens were “volun_told_” (a term I learned in the military, not from my son…) that they were going to participate that day.
However, within 15 minutes, the Bridgestone school’s director John Mahler and associate director Gerry Low had the young drivers engaged and excited about the coming “on track” exercises. The trick, it seemed, was simple language and examples to deliver critical information instead of overwhelming jargon and technical terms. Not a single person was texting. Or floating in and out of consciousness. Nice.
Out into the cold
As we headed outside, the ice even alongside the cone course setup on a tarmac expanse, was precarious. Simply walking was a search for traction. I wondered how many times I shuffled to my own car (when I can’t walk on the ice, should I really be driving on it?).
Drivers were paired with an instructor each. As the cars lined up, there were some very wide eyes amongst the parents, wondering if they’d just put their family vehicle in jeopardy. Yep, you can bring your own ride to the school – our fleet varied from our own first-gen Mazda Miata, to a full-size Ford Flex and a Hyundai Genesis rear-wheel drive sedan.
Act two involved a combination of collision avoidance and emergency braking lessons. The track was a mix of said ice and puddles, with few bare spots, a properly Canadian cocktail to upset the balance of the car. Ironically, the teens probably would have been grounded by similar conditions if they’d ask for the car at home.
Watching from trackside, it was easy to see the student confidence and car control improve with every subsequent pass through the cone course. The instructors shuffled through all the drivers, and not surprisingly, speeds continued to rise while stopping distances were reduced. Actually, there were very few moments of drama.
Act three was a few dizzying laps of the Skid Pad. Drivers were encouraged to gradually increase their speed, pushing the cars to the point where the tires lost grip. It was great to watch apprehensive teens become comfortable drivers, and equally satisfying to see good drivers realize they could become better drivers. The more edgy parents discovered that their offspring were capable of becoming responsible at the wheel.
Act four, following a debrief of the morning’s events, saw the drivers treated to a so-called “Sunday drive” – numerous laps of Mosport’s DDT. The track wore an icy, slushy slurry over its usual tight turns. Untrained drivers would surely have ended up off-roading backwards, but the teens showed they’d actually been listening all morning. Surprise, surprise. It seems the instructors’s progressive approach to skills development meant the the young drivers could confidently navigated the circuit in what would normally be treacherous conditions.
School’s out for… winter
As the day concluded, the group was buzzing, sharing stories of close calls and accomplishments. During conversations with several parents, we noted that one of the many intangibles gained from the day was the teen’s realization that their parents are not wrong about everything all of the time – at least when it comes to driving. Conversely, watching your child interact and take instruction from another adult gives you a unique perspective about the character of the person that you’re molding.
Everyone learned much more than winter driving skills that day. And yes, Keagan you can have the car, even though it’s snowing out…