On a good Saturday morning, Pete “Miata” Morrison saves a teenager’s life before lunch. Morrison, of Burntmeadow Road, teaches crash prevention courses — skid school — at In Control Driver Training.
“There have been a number of kids just in our small town that have been killed or seriously injured in crashes. And those are preventable. One of the facts in one of our lectures is these things that are causing teen age deaths aren’t accidents. They’re crashes. An accident is something like a tree falls on the car; something unavoidable. That’s an accident. But a crash is where there’s some human mistake; following too closely, driving too fast, not paying attention — those are crashes, and you can learn to prevent those mistakes,” Morrison said.
“We teach two things, an attitude and a skill. The skill is the lane change exercise — that is crash avoidance,” he said, leaning on the door of one of the school’s white Volvo T5s. “A lot of people think that they’re good drivers, so they don’t need this kind of training because they’ll never put themselves in harm’s way. Absolutely true, but that doesn’t stop some other person from involving you in his mistake. So things like the lane change give you the ability to get the heck out of the way of somebody else’s problem, so at the end of the day, all you have is a good story instead of big bills for car repairs. The second thing is an attitude. People should really be able to use a car to its maximum potential. I’m not saying that people have to drive fast; I’m not saying that people have to be race car drivers, but when you get into a situation that requires it, accident avoidance is really driving at the limit of the car.”
These things that are causing teen age deaths aren’t accidents. They’re crashes.
The “lane change” Morrison mentioned is the driving exercise that happens near the end of the 4.5 hour course. It combines skills learned in several earlier drills — braking, swerving, and a slalom. The idea is to avoid an accident or car in front of you without losing control of the vehicle. And that can involve pushing the vehicle beyond what daily drivers are comfortable with.
The courses take place in a huge empty parking lot in Andover, about 25-30 minutes from Groton up I-495. There’s plenty of room for the course, and for recovery if a driver wanders off-course. Most exercises start out at slow speed, and gradually accelerate to 35-40 or so as students get familiar with the drills and special cars.
“One of the car manufacturers, maybe Mercedes, found out that in many fatal or near fatal crashes, less than 60 percent of the ability of the car was used to avoid the crash. In other words, people saw something happening… but didn’t do enough with their cars,” Morrison said. “That’s what we teach here. People really need to use that skill, but it’s very important when they need to do it. The other thing is that we’ve found that graduates of the course really remember this. It’s almost like what they do in the military. They drill you in basic training, do this when this happens, do this when that happens. We find on the road, when something goes wrong or something happens, you do what you’ve been trained to do without thinking. and it just happens. and you sit there in retrospect and say “I guess I did do the right thing!”
Teen driver statistics
- More than half of new drivers crash during their first two years
- 93% of all teen accidents involve driver error
- Car crashes are the leading cause of death for people under age 45
- About half of all teen deaths are automobile related
- In Control crash prevention training has reduced crash rates for new drivers by two-thirds and for experienced drivers, by about 60%
In Control’s program concentrates on teenage “new” drivers because that group is most at risk of crashing. But safe driving is actually more of a family affair. Parents can sign up to take the course along with their kids, and there are some special courses for experienced drivers. In Control also trains police officers and other special groups.
In Control Tips You Can Use Today
- Seat belts, seat belts, seat belts. Keep them fastened. They keep passengers and the driver stay where they are supposed to be.
- When you’re driving, look ahead, towards the horizon, to pick up potential problems early.
- Use the three-second rule. When the car in front of you passes a landmark, count seconds to make sure you’re following at least two — but three is better — seconds behind.
- Hold the steering wheel with your hands at about nine and three o’clock for best control. It’s stronger than the old ten-and-two.
- Brake first, swerve second. Braking before swerving increases traction on the front wheels and provides greater control of the vehicle. It also helps prevents SUV roll-overs.
“Parental involvement is critical. Getting the parents to at least watch this, which is free. It brings up dinnertime conversations, they can talk about attitude and skills. that’s really important. But parents can take this course too and learn a lot. When you and I got our licenses, they didn’t have ABS, they didn’t have traction control, stability control, or panic assist. Driving was us, pure us,” Morrison said.
“Nowadays, we’ve got all these safety features in the car, and we know they’re there, and we know they’re good, we know they’re worthwhile, but we’ve never experienced what happens when those things take over. Like the first time somebody will get into the ABS, they’ll feel the car vibrate and they’ll hear all these nasty noises. But that’s actually a good noise. You want to hear that, feel that vibration. So this course gives a parent, older drivers, a chance to see how these cars react.”
“As time goes on, more cars — I think it’s mandated or soon will be — that all new cars in the US will have ABS. All cars in Europe already have to have ABS. So the days of threshold braking or pumping the brakes will soon be gone. We learned to pump the brakes… and that’s exactly the wrong thing to do with ABS brakes,” he said.
We learned to pump the brakes… and that’s exactly the wrong thing to do with ABS brakes.
Hence the In Control braking exercises that start off the courses. “Pushing on the brakes hard — people just don’t do that. That girl who was in here last, I said ‘If you can snap that brake pedal off by jumping on it, I’ll give you a hundred dollars.’ It’s impossible to do, nobody can do that. But it gives them an indication of how hard they’re supposed to push on the brakes. Flash money in front of a broke teen, and they’ll really nail it,” showing off his parent’s insight.
Morrison has been teaching some form of advanced driving skills for more than 35 years, about 20 of those at In Control. Morrison is also a long time Sports Car Club of America amateur racer (in a Miata similar to the red roadster he drives around Groton), board member of the group’s New England region, and an instructor of the SCCA’s competition training courses. And he teaches in a third venue as well, the Sports Car Drivers Association “It’s kind of a performance driving thing where we teach you how to drive your car on the race track at a brisk pace. It’s not racing, so there’s no bent fender stuff.”
Insurance companies in Massachusetts support advanced driver training courses like In Control’s by offering discounts from 5-10% on policies. That often pays for the cost of the course, In Control spokespeople point out. The list price of the course is $350, but there are some discounts for additional people from the same family, and for some towns. “With the insurance discounts, people save a lot of money; more than the cost of the course even if they pay full price,” said Dan Strollo, owner of In Control.
A number of Groton and Dunstable drivers have taken part in the course by filling vacancies in courses offered by the Acton-Boxborough Parent Involvement Project, which has extended it’s In Control discounts through Gary Huogland’s Groton-Dunstable Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math group. There are a number of open seats in the October 21 morning class. Register for them at http://www.driveincontrol.com/gd/ and click the October 21 link to take advantage of the $199 price for the $350 class.
New Groton Discounts At In Control
The Groton Line is working with the Groton Dunstable Education Foundation and the Groton Fire Department, to arrange a special subsidized rate and discounts for Groton residents, Groton-Dunstable Regional High School students, and Groton School and Lawrence Academy students taking the In Control advanced driver training course. The discount is for $75 off the regular course tuition of $350, and is available by registering for a course using a special web site: http:\\www.incontrol.com\gd\. We hope eventually to lower the cost to meet or beat the $199 rate Acton-Boxborough has been able to achieve. In Control is a non-profit company.
The three enterprises will be working with individuals and groups in the community to raise funds to further reduce the course tuition. State Representative Shelia Harrington made the first donation to the effort several weeks ago, in memory of Taylor DeLuca, a young Groton resident who recently died in a crash on Route 119.