Students get hands-on approach to learn winter driving skills

Bridgestone Winter Driving School, Colorado State Patrol team up to conduct program

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— The Colorado State Patrol joined forces with the Bridgestone Winter Driving School Saturday to offer young drivers the chance to practice in the driver's seat what they learned in their classroom seat.

"Cruise Control" put 24 students behind the wheel of their own cars and gave them the confidence to safely navigate snow-packed and ice covered roads.

Students throughout the state enrolled in the daylong program, which featured four hours of classroom direction and four hours of actual driving time.

Trooper Brad Keadle provided instruction to half of the class in a heated tent, while Bridgestone instructors took the other half out on the course.

Keadle proposed Cruise Control a few years ago as a way to counter the high number of fatal driving accidents among youths.

The state trooper from Craig regularly teaches courses in defensive driving to young drivers.

But chalkboards and videos go only so far.

His students needed real time behind the wheel, Keadle said.

"I could get it in their head, but I couldn't give them an experience," he said.

"Cruise Control" is an original concept.

Keadle said he knows of no other such program in the United States.

The outcome of the first-ever Cruise Control program would help to determine the future course of the program, he said.

A second eight-hour course will be offered Feb. 16.

The course, which costs $175, requires participants to drive their own vehicles, which must be equipped with mud and snow rated tires, hold a valid driver's license or permit and show proof of insurance.

Students 18 and younger must provide a signed parental release.

If the 24 slots are filled again, and the interest still exists, a third session could be considered, said Scott LaLonde, of Rally Art Organization's special projects division.

Rally Art Organization owns and operates the driving school, located on the Stanko Ranch off County Road 33.

Twelve students, each driving their own vehicle, took to the one-mile track at one time.

Bridgestone instructors Tanner Foust and Lea Croteau talked them through the course with two-way radios.

After a few warmup laps, Foust and Croteau instructed the first group of students to speed up.

Croteau said she wanted the young drivers to experience the feeling of their car spinning out of control without ever completely losing control of the vehicle.

A younger crowd meant fewer bad driving habits, she said, which allowed her to teach them more easily.

Unlike adults, who often display too much confidence about their winter driving abilities, the younger drivers held no preconceived notions about their knack for handling ice and snow, Foust said.

"The kids start out nervous and build confidence as they drive," he said.

Both instructors said they wanted their students to learn the importance of looking ahead to the next hill or bend in the road so they could anticipate, and not react to, the conditions.

Many students, such as 15-year-old Travis Hodo, enrolled in the class at the suggestion of parents.

Hodo, who said he expected boring lectures and little drive time, said he was surprised with the amount of driving experience and the relaxed classroom atmosphere.

The in-class instruction pertained to his performance behind the wheel, he said.

"My instructors actually encouraged me to go fast," he said.

His father, Randy Hodo, said he appreciated a controlled environment that allowed inexperienced drivers to experiment with unsafe conditions and still be safe.

Summer Uyeno, 17, of Commerce City, learned with the rest of her classmates the importance of avoiding the tendency to brake when a car begins to slide.

On one of her first tries around the course at a higher speed, she said, her vehicle slid into a snow bank.

It's one of many driving experiences on Saturday, she said, that helped to build her confidence.

At the end of the course, students buckled up in the passenger seats as Croteau and Foust took them for a high-speed ride through snow and ice.

Slipping and sliding at every turn, the experienced drivers showed the class how they still maintained control even though the situations changed.

The ride was an experience he could do again, said 15-year-old Trevor Gann.

"I like it when I'm in control," he said.

To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4208

or e-mail dharrelson@steamboatpilot.com

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