By Jason A. Smith
In response to a dangerous trend of teenage driving fatalities, and a growing number of distractions, such as text-messaging behind the wheel among teens, a major automobile manufacturer is bringing a defensive-driving course to Henry County.
Thirty local residents are scheduled to participate this month in a defensive-driving course, which is being offered at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton for the first time.
The Toyota Driving Expectations program is scheduled to be held the weekends of April 11-13 and 18-20.
Tracy Underwood, national manager of corporate contributions for Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., said the free, four-hour program is geared toward teenagers, as well as their parents, to enhance the driving skills they use on a regular basis. AMS, she explained, provides a "perfect, wonderful spot" for such an event.
"We try to put [participants] in real-world scenarios, but on a controlled track," Underwood said. "We need a vast amount of space."
Several classes are taught in Driving Expectations, including two that deal with aspects of braking. One course teaches participants about the difference between hitting the brakes on wet pavement versus dry pavement, and another contrasts techniques for vehicles with, and without, anti-lock braking systems.
Another course, Underwood said, will contain instruction on "distraction reaction" - a course she described as "enlightening."
"The point of the course is to show people what a difference being distracted can make while you're driving," Underwood said, adding that participants will be taught about the dangers of operating a vehicle while eating, listening to music or using a cell phone.
The Driving Expectations program was developed in 2004, partially in response to statistics from the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, which indicated that more than twice the number of teenagers, compared with the rest of the population, are involved in fatal traffic accidents each year.
Since its inception, approximately 7,500 people nationwide have been through Driving Expectations, Underwood said, adding that Toyota is "looking forward to expanding those numbers in Atlanta."
In a press release issued by Toyota Monday, Michael Rouse, the company's corporate manager of national philanthropy and community affairs, noted the importance of the defensive-driving program's impact on drivers' confidence behind the wheel.
"Toyota is committed to safe driving, and equipping teens with the tools ... they need to become better drivers," Rouse said, adding that the program has helped to create "an open dialogue within families to develop and maintain safe driving habits."
Representatives from Toyota of McDonough will be at the event April 18-20, in support of the company's message of safety to young drivers. Kara Barkley, the dealership's customer relations manager, said encouraging teen drivers to travel responsibly, will be even more important in the coming months.
"With the spring and summer coming up, we're going to have more teens on the road," she explained. "We want to emphasize to teens that driving is a privilege...and we want them to understand that safety has to be their priority."