Some tire industry headliners are staging a ``survivor'' series of their own. But at stake is much more than money and fame.
Yokohama Tire Corp., Discount Tire Co. and Jim Russell Racing School, a long-time partner of Yokohama, have conducted a series of safety clinics for teen drivers. With summer now arriving, driving skills are even more critical for young, inexperienced drivers, the sponsors pointed out.
In addition to the kick-off event April 6 in Houston, the half-day sessions are being held in five other cities. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Discount Tire and its partners all wanted to ``give back'' to their communities, said Sandi Hveem, Discount's director of corporate and community development.
``Ride-and-drives are typical in this business, and we thought that in addition to educating our employees, let's do something for communities by protecting their children,'' Ms. Hveem said.
Teens die behind the wheel four times as often as motorists aged 25 to 69, according to statistics cited by the clinics' sponsors. In 2002, for example, 5,700 drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 died in the U.S. in vehicle crashes.
Presumably it isn't too difficult to recruit teens for the driving clinics when their choices are half a day at school or that time outside, learning behind the wheel.
Instructors from the Sonoma, Calif.-based Jim Russell School, joined by local law enforcement officials, start with a 90-minute lecture on safe driving techniques, examine common mistakes and demonstrate the correct ways to handle them.
Then the students head for the cars-shiny new Ford Mustang convertibles, in Houston's case-where they're run through a series of behind-the-wheel drills that demonstrate vehicle dynamics and proper driving techniques. The programs wrap up with a discussion about the importance of tire maintenance and inflation pressure.
The partners hope to expand the program nationally in 2005, said Del Leutbecher, Russell Racing's sales operation manager. Realizing that driving instruction programs nationwide have fallen victim to cuts in education budgets, Russell came up with its own half-day teen highway survival course at a cost of $495.
Yokohama and Discount Tire's free safe driving program will be conducted in Detroit Aug. 3 and Seattle on Aug. 24. The program already has concluded in Scottsdale, San Antonio and Dallas.
The Houston clinic, at Sam Houston Race Park, included staffers from an area high school newspaper.
Allison Carr, a student editor of Jersey Village High School's newspaper, said she learned not to ``be afraid of using the steering. And it helps the back end stick if you remember to stay on the gas.'' The 18-year-old added that she's a ``pretty aggressive driver. I've gotten a few tickets in my time.''
Jersey High School students Candy Kwok and Thuy Truong, both 17, were exploring the limits and nature of braking-with and without use of the Mustangs' anti-lock braking system. Russell instructor Dave McEntree worked patiently with his charges, who were initially timid in barreling their Mustang down a row of cones.
``We're supposed to be making the distance shorter,'' Ms. Kwok told a reporter. ``You find out how hard you need to step on the brake pedal.''
Gil Garcia, a Houston-based assistant vice president of Discount Tire, was pleased with what he saw. ``With the millions of miles people drive here and with conditions being what they are, it often seems you're always on the road. This can only be good.''
John Sampa, a trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety, agreed.
``When they leave here they're going to be impressed. These kids can tell their friends, who will tell their friends.''
Patrolling the region's highways, Mr. Sampa said he ``ran across the typical teenager stuff: drag racing, having their foot out the window, no seatbelts, having their feet up on the dashboard. Even adults don't know that that's very dangerous if the air bag goes off.''
Rachel Knapp, 18, said one of the key lessons she'd take home was ``that you're the one in charge of the car and you shouldn't be afraid of it. I was more of a cautious driver. I know now that I can be more aggressive.''
While such epiphanies may not be exactly what parents and the program's sponsors intended, another teenager called highway survival classes powerful ``reality checks.''
Shannon Thorp of Selah, Wash., took a similar class. She lost her brother in an auto accident in the fall of 2000. She e-mailed Mr. Leutbecher, thanking him for the opportunity to take the Russell school's safety class.
``The day I got my license, my classmate and friend was killed 15 feet away from where my brother had his accident,'' Shannon wrote. ``More and more kids my age are getting reality checks-that no one is invincible. I think that they realized that no matter how good a driver they think they are, or others are, accidents can-and will-happen.
``They have to be aware of their surroundings, and that they can't control other people's driving as well as their own.''