Five area teenagers’ driving skills were put to the test Thursday, and hopefully improved, in a two-day course that focused on avoiding road dangers.
The teens participated in Collision Avoidance Training, sponsored by the Johnson City Police Department. The $75 class teaches teens the importance of vehicle maintenance, avoiding distractions while driving and hands-on experience on a driving course police officers have to master.
“We bring them out here and put them through several different events,” JCPD Training Officer Jason Abernathy said. The CAT is for drivers 16 to around 21, but Thursday’s participants were all under age 18.
“We start out with the basics like vehicle maintenance and we go over the importance of not texting or talking on the phone when they’re driving,” Abernathy said.
“When we get out here driving, we’re staring out real slow and start with the basics. We do the shuffle steering. That way it’s easier to control the car,” Abernathy said.
The driving portion consisted of four scenarios that the teens had to maneuver in drive and in reverse. During the driving course, the teens were always accompanied by a police officer involved in the training.
One driving scenario was a slalom-type path, while another required them to get up to speed and come to a complete stop prior to hitting a row of cones across their path.
Another part tested their reflexes as they drove between a row of cones and had to go to the left or right and maneuver through another set of cones when their police officer instructor riding along with them gave them the command.
“They find when they go forward and it’s slow, it’s pretty easy going through these. But when the speed picks up they see how important it is to maintain control of the car,” he said.
“What this is designed to do is get these young people prepared for what they might encounter out here on the road,” Abernathy said.
One participant, Brooke Shelton, said she took the class to learn good driving skills.
“I never parallel parked before so that was a plus, and I’ve never changed a tire and they taught me how to do that,” she said.
The slalom portion helped Shelton with her backing-up skill, she said. “I’m a lot better at it now, even with just the first three times we (went) through.”
Shelton also said she learned as a teen — she’s 17 years old — she is prohibited from using a cell phone while driving unless she needs to call 911 or her parents.
“I didn’t know the difference between standard brakes and anti-lock brakes. That can really depend on how your car stops,” she said.
Shelton said taking the course and being given directions from a police officer helped reinforce good driving skills.
It’s one thing to get driving advice from a parent, but for Shelton it hits harder when it’s from a police officer — even with her stepdad being a police officer.
That stepfather, city traffic offcer David Smith, was one of several officers helping with the class, but Shelton said he wasn’t her direct instructor.