Gridlock Guy: Georgia teens have select opportunity to experience real-life driving scenarios

A student spins out during Ford Motor Company Driving Skills for Life Program.

Credit: Johnny Crawford

Credit: Johnny Crawford

A student spins out during Ford Motor Company Driving Skills for Life Program.

Ahead of the summer driving season, a time where out-on-break teens have plenty of time to drive, a helpful, hands-on clinic returns to Georgia.

The Ford Driving Skills for Life sets up on the property at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 1st and Sunday, April 2nd. It is free for high schoolers and their parents. This event puts young drivers behind the wheel on a closed course and in simulated situations that could easily emerge in real life.

“This is where teens who have a valid driver’s license or valid learner’s permit get behind the wheel. And they are able to take part in several scenarios: stopping and starting, (and) a distracted driving course,” Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety communications manager Robert Hydrick told the AJC and 95.5 WSB.

Hydrick said there is also a spinout course, which sounds fun and also “gives these newest drivers the feel of something they may encounter on the road.” Parents need not worry: Ford provides the cars, and there are instructors in the vehicle with each teen.

Parents also get taken to school during the four-hour sessions.

“While the teens are driving the vehicles, the Ford Driving Skills staff is meeting with parents, guardians and caregivers, discussing what they can be doing and making sure that their teens are driving safely and (the parents) are exhibiting good driving behavior and how to teach this,” Hydrick said, adding that parents often want to bring their younger kids to this same course in the future, after seeing it firsthand.

Just like with having a dog, the training is as much for the owners as it is for the pooch.

“Our driver’s education commission did a report two years ago that shows that when teen drivers have formal training — whether it is online or behind-the-wheel training — they are much less likely to be in crashes,” Hydrick said. This is the reason many insurance companies offer discounts on premiums to kids and adults that take safe-driving courses.

Hyrdick said this program is not in Georgia annually, but has traveled to the Peach State in four of the last seven years. That makes slots in these sessions very exclusive.

Ford Driving Skills for Life will hold morning and afternoon sessions on both days that weekend, each with 85 students. That means only 340 students get the chance to attend — first come, first served. They can sign up with their parents or guardians at

The timing is perfect, as April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. People of all ages are addicted to their mobile devices and teenagers are arguably moreso. Mix inexperienced drivers with addictive distractions and there is a recipe for disaster.

The teen driving sessions take time to teach the effects of driving inattentively and also quantify impaired driving’s externalities. Students wear impaired driving-goggles, which distort the images and alter depth perception.

I have worn them before, and there is no way I could drive with them.

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety will also have their rollover simulator on-site for the four Ford classes at AMS. This device puts dummies in the car — not people — and flips the vehicle over to show how easily unbuckled passengers can be ejected.

GOHS is very concerned with seatbelt use, which is surprisingly still a problem in 2023. The driving program’s placement at AMS is even more apropos, since GOHS has enlisted rising NASCAR star Ross Chastain for its “Protect Your Melon” campaign. The push is focused on getting drivers to buckle up before driving.

Chastain and his younger brother, Chad, are seventh-generation watermelon farmers with the family business based in Florida, but having ties in Cordele, Georgia, too. Chad Chastain was entered for his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the No. 91 Chevy, sponsored by “Protect Your Melon.”

Similar safe driving initiatives sponsored Ross Chastain in his NASCAR Cup Series debut races in 2017.

The brothers had several appearances scheduled for the AMS race weekend, and Hydrick said that the elder Chastain has spoken at public safety conventions.

Hydrick said GOHS research shows that crash fatalities in rural areas are at a higher rate than urban areas. This further affirms their choice to spend some of their marketing in NASCAR and its more rural-centric fanbase. .

Having professional drivers who are young and relatable is key to the GOHS and Ford Driving Skills for Life breaking through to these young and impressionable motorists.

Whether it’s the state or the Ford Foundation funding these initiatives, there is no doubt that hands-on, applicable, and relatable safe-driving campaigns are absolutely priceless.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at