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Special car teaches safe winter driving

By Becky Bruce and Courtney Orton  |  Posted Dec 2nd, 2008 @ 5:50pm


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Students at Hillcrest High School are getting some firsthand experience dealing with winter driving but without the snow, ice or traffic.

Miller Motorsports Performance Training Center Director Dan McKeever is teaching kids how to handle the slides and skids in a specially decked-out "skid car" designed to help them learn what to do.

"As we get into wintertime, folks are kind of thrown into a low-traction situation, so this car can create those low-traction situations even in the middle of summer when it's a hundred degrees," McKeever said.

"When they (students) finally get their drivers license, the first time they're going to drive is going to be on these winter roads, and they don't have the experience behind them to know exaction what to do," said Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Mary Kaye Lucas.

A control panel next to the car's gear shift allows McKeever to lift either the front or back of the car to create less traction in front or in back as he snakes students through a controlled course in the high school parking lot.

"It was pretty difficult because I'm not used to driving that way," student driver Mario Gomez said.

McKeever says the three things that create potential slides and skids are having the wrong steering angle, going too fast for the steering angle, and trying to brake and turn at the same time. The car simulates each situation with both front and back traction loss so students can see how it feels to lose control, and learn the "muscle memory" required to regain control.

The added benefit is that they're learning it without having to be out in real world conditions where they could get hurt.

One of the common mistakes McKeever says drivers make is looking at what they want to avoid instead of where they want to go. "You're like, 'Look at the size of that pothole!' Bam! If you're looking at it, your hands don't understand where the place is they can get to to get around it. The information goes straight from your eyes to your hands," he said.

He says drivers also forget to use their side windows and only give themselves the visual space in the front windshield.

McKeever says the goal isn't so much to teach kids how to handle a skid as it is to teach them how not to get in a dangerous situation in the first place. Once they understand what has to happen to cause the skid, they'll know to adjust their speed accordingly.

E-mail: bbruce@ksl.com
E-mail: corton@ksl.com

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