Gridlock Guy: Safe driving courses help avoid tragedy

WSB Traffic’s Smilin’ Mark McKay prepares to practice car control the Ice Hill and Skid Pad at Atlanta Motorsports Park’s Drive to Thrive course on Monday, Oct. 16.
WSB Traffic’s Smilin’ Mark McKay prepares to practice car control the Ice Hill and Skid Pad at Atlanta Motorsports Park’s Drive to Thrive course on Monday, Oct. 16.

Briarcliff Road is the main drag in front of my alma mater, Lakeside High. As a teen, I used to watch countless peers zoom up and down the busy two lane road. I, too, sped along it in my ‘81 Malibu.

Today, there is a speed limit sign south of Chrysler Drive bent at a 45-degree to the ground. Another street sign at Hawthorne Drive has been mangled even worse. Anyone could have hit those signs, but Briarcliff seems like a haven for teen drivers.

In order to highlight safe-driving for youngsters, National Teen Driver Safety week ended recently. AAA identifies the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day as the deadliest for teens on the roads. Crashes are the number one teen-killer in the U.S.

In 2014, an estimated 970,000 drivers ages 16-19 were in wrecks, with over 3,200 deaths and almost 400,000 injuries. In 2016, 123 Georgia teens died and more than 15,000 got hurt in crashes involving teen drivers. Distractions and alcohol only make this problem worse.

But education can help. This past week has obviously been a key time for driver education programs to make themselves known. Smilin’ Mark McKay from the WSB Traffic Team got to try the Drive to Thrive course at Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville.

“This isn’t your father’s or mother’s driver’s education course!” McKay said after his test.

Participants are paired with experienced instructors, who teach young drivers how to avoid and get out of trouble behind the wheel, McKay said after his test.

AMP CEO Jeremy Porter created the program in 2014 at his facility, largely because he was in a crash as a teen. Drive to Thrive is open to any driver, as long as they have 25 hours or more behind the wheel and have had their learner’s permit at least six months. McKay has been driving for many years and the course blew him away.

“I was put through the paces myself,” he said. “One of the most thrilling yet challenging parts of the course was the Ice Hill and Skid Pad. You are encouraged by the instructor who’s in the passenger seat to get the vehicle up to speed on a very slippery surface. Once out of control, you’re instructed how to regain control of the car … all the while not having to worry about hitting any other vehicles or objects. If you haven’t been in that situation before, trust me, you’ll be glad you’re learning how to correct it here and not out on the open road!”

Teens may see major changes to driving laws in Ohio. Getty Images
Teens may see major changes to driving laws in Ohio. Getty Images

McKay also went through a slalom course, while purposefully being distracted.

I’ve personally observed the Teen Vehicle Operations Course and talked about it in this column before. Woodrow Gaines operates this non-profit at different one-day classes around the state. This is police-style training led by officers and shows, among many other things, how long a car takes to stop.

Safety doesn’t stop with education. There are now multiple apps and devices parents can use to monitor their teen’s driving habits. As we talked about a few weeks ago, insurer Allstate promotes “cellblock,” a monthly, fee-based device to block certain communications with a driver’s phone. This innovation isn’t just for young drivers.

Local HVAC company Estes uses a similar technology called, Cellcontrol” to monitor its fleet of drivers, including how distracted they may be.

“Cellcontrol technology assures parents with teen drivers that they won’t be distracted by their cell phones in a moving vehicle, while also providing discretionary reporting options that can include useful alerts like excessive vehicle speed, hard braking and geo-location traveling zones,” said Robert Guba, CEO of Cellcontrol. Guba also says that teen drivers using this device have an almost 100 percent elimination of cell distractions.

Parents spend hundreds of dollars each on travel balls, dances and prom dresses and tuxes. Since more teens die behind the wheel than any other way, isn’t budgeting a couple hundred more on driving classes and monitoring devices a no-brainer? Lives are too precious and a price cannot be put on that one thing that breaks through and carries the life-saving point home to a driver. In fact, maybe extra education behind the wheel should be something we all consider.

Atlanta Motor Speedway will be offering Ford Driving Skills on weekends. This free program, in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, gives a similar hands-on experience. The course also uses virtual reality and “drunk driving suits” to highlight the dangers of drunk or distracted driving. Information:

Information about Teen Vehicle Operations Course:

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin' Mark McKay on Contact him at