Gridlock Guy: ‘Street Survival’ course teaches teens control, parents discipline

Chip Wade of HGTV recommends checking your car’s owners manual on everything from the engine oil level to the tire pressure. (LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE)

Credit: Liberty Mutual Insurance

Credit: Liberty Mutual Insurance

Chip Wade of HGTV recommends checking your car’s owners manual on everything from the engine oil level to the tire pressure. (LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE)

The importance of teen driving education is emphasized in messaging to the point of making society numb. “Of course, kids are important. Of course, driving is hard,” the older generations chime in unison. But actions rarely back that up.

We recently covered both the horrible human toll of driving mistakes and the safest and best cars for teens in this dangerous summer driving season.

A Louisville, Kentucky, architect with a 16-year-old daughter felt a pull in his heart and left his architecture career for a calling more than 20 years ago. Bill Wade has not looked back.

Wade started running the “Street Survival” non-profit in 2003, hosting six classroom and driving-course track days for teenagers. BMW car clubs had been running track schools for years, Wade told the AJC and 95.5 WSB.

Tire retailer Tire Rack joined Street Survival as a major sponsor three years later. The day-course network grew to 100 schools nationwide by 2019, before the 2020 pandemic shut it down. Now Wade, with the help of two part-timers and more than 2,000 volunteers from several dozen car clubs have helped grow the network back to 80 track days this year.

He said that these clubs plus Sports Car Club of America chapters and Porsche car clubs help found and staff these schools with volunteers.

A local SCCA chapter helps bring Street Survival to Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton on Saturday, August 10th, and Wade said that 28 of the 30 slots are filled. But Metro Atlanta has only one class. Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park has four, so Wade says he thinks there is an incredible runway for growth.

The Georgia-Alabama rivalry is not dead. Georgia needs more students interested in piloting their Ramblin’ Wrecks (wrong metaphor, yes). Alabamans seem far more concerned in their Tides properly Rolling.

“We ‘make’ 10,000 16-year-olds every day,” Wade said of the birth rate. But many parents have shown far more commitment in getting kids to their team sports and activities than taking a Saturday off to arm their kids with driving knowledge. Teen Vehicle Operations Course founder Woodrow Gaines has echoed that to me for years.

“Elite level sports like that in the eighth grade — by the time they’re a senior in high school, (some students have) had over 10,000 hours of practice and coaching,” Wade said. “You get a driver’s license now with 50 hours of training.”

Furthermore, “Not that many kids die on the soccer field because of what some other kid did to him or a drunk driver did to him, or the weather did to him or something like that,” Wade campaigned. But then he turned an optimistic tone. Wade said that he has 50 pages in a computer document chock full of former students’ testimonials on how Street Survival has served them later. “I never got that as an architect.”

Wade answered the deeply spiritual question, “What breaks your heart?” This should.

Street Survival’s website lists that 50% of fatal teen crashes are with single vehicles and that 20% of all motor deaths amongst passengers are with young adults at the wheel. Drivers aged 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely to die in a wreck than those 20 and older. Driving is the leading cause of death for 15-to-20-year-olds. These aren’t accidents.

Street Survival classes are $125 per day. Wade said that they charge money because they want parents and students to commit to showing up early one morning and dedicating a Saturday. They do selectively provide financial assistance for this critical education.

Tire Rack became involved in the program, because Street Survival’s goal is car control, Tire Rack VP of Marketing Woody Rogers said. “This was the right program at the right time to connect with Tire Rack and the need for educating the young drivers of the world.” Rogers said Tire Rack’s founders also saw the major pitfalls in standardized driving education: “Once you’re in control of your situation, you can cope with essentially anything that comes at you as a driver, whether it’s the mattress falling off the truck, whether it’s the drunk driver, crossing the centerline.”

During a class day, the student group is divided and one half takes a classroom session, while the other hits the coned parking lot for lessons in hard-braking, features of anti-lock brakes, abrupt steering, proper acceleration, situational decision-making, and other maneuvers.

Wade and Rogers also stressed the importance of parents investing in proper tires for whatever vehicle they let their children use. They each said they are appalled when parents say, “Put the cheapest rubber on it, it’s just my kid’s car.”

Rogers said that tread depth and air pressure are the two most important factors in tire maintenance. I have heard of the penny test for treads: If Abraham Lincoln’s head is halfway above the tread, then it is legally safe for the road. But Rogers suggests that using a quarter is really what the safe tread depth should be.

So Rogers wants car owners to upgrade to George Washington.

If someone drives in rainy Georgia in the summer, they need better treads than an Arizona driver, Rogers said.

And proper air pressure is so important, Rogers said, because low pressure means vehicles have less control when they carry heavier loads. Rogers said that, unless a freak instance flattens a brand new tire, the tires in both brand and tread depth should match on the same axle.

If parents want their kids to maintain control, the best place to start is where the rubber meets the road, Wade and Rogers explained. Having the tires in shape — and the drivers behind the wheel properly trained — arms them to handle the unexpected debris, weather, or avoidance skills. Even if the driver is top-level, they still have less runway to avoid danger if their tires fail them.

Tire Rack has a distribution center in Doraville, off of Buford Highway just north of I-285. That is fittingly diagonally across the busy and wreck-laden Perimeter from Assembly Atlanta, the site of the old GM plant.

Driving requires a larger commitment both behind the wheel and with maintenance than almost everyone is willing to give these days. Given the harrowing teen-driving stats and the recent increases in the fatality rate amongst all drivers, extreme proactive measures are needed. Street survival is no accident.

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