Phillip Carroll’s accident happened in a blink.
Last winter the teen was driving on a highway near his Baldwin City, Kan., home. Concerned that a driver behind him was going to rear-end him, he took a curve too quickly, skidded on a gravel road and flipped his car into a ditch.
He escaped injury but totaled the car, taking out a telephone pole and a neighbor’s fence along the way.
On Sunday he was one of nearly 100 teenagers taking part in the three-hour Petty Safe Driving event this weekend at a specially designed road course in a parking lot at the Kansas Speedway.
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Jeff Miles, one of five driving instructors, guided the teens through several test courses in a new Chevrolet Malibu.
“OK,” Miles said. “You’re going to get the car up to 30 mph. And when you see the two red lights I want you to immediately put on the brakes. Go hard on the brakes. The goal is to stop the car before the black thing in the roadway. That’s simulating a tire that has come off a car.”
The car gave a throaty roar as Phillip, 17, hit the gas. Ten. Twenty.
“Keep going,” Miles told him.
Thirty. Red light.
“Now slam on the brake!” Miles said. “Harder. Harder. Harder!”
The car lurched to a quick stop.
“Perfect job,” Miles said. “Feel how the brake pedal pumped up and down? That’s the anti-lock brakes that you are experiencing there.”
Then the teen did the same thing on a wet road, and 5 miles per hour faster while being asked to make a phone call.
The last time the car slid past the black thing.
“See?” Miles said. “If that was a car, we would have hit them. Just 5 miles per hour faster, and that distraction you had. That’s the whole point of that.”
Later, Phillip completed an obstacle avoidance course and learned what to do in both a front- and rear-wheel skid.
“I expected it to be more of a DMV-kind of course where you pass or fail and get graded,” Phillip said. “But it’s different than that. It’s almost fun. They put you in the car, and they’re like, ‘Here are these (bad) scenarios that could happen. We’re going to teach you how they’re not going to happen — how to avoid the situation.’”
The Richard Petty Driving Experience of Charlotte, N.C., designed the safe driving program in partnership with Clemson University. State Farm Insurance sponsored the free program.
“It’s more than a basic driver education class,” said State Farm spokesman Kevin Gamble. “This is about how to handle emergency or loss-of-control type situations. … The Kansas Highway Patrol is here (to provide some safety tips), and there’s a tractor-trailer here to give the teens a first-hand look at what the sight lines are and how they might differ from expectations.”
Ken Rogich, chief financial officer for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, heads up Petty’s safe driving program.
“The reason we do it is we are aware of the problem on the road with teens,” he said. “Fatal car accidents are the number one cause of deaths for teens.”
The company has offered the safe driving program for 10 years and has taught thousands of students throughout the country.
“The goal for us is to let these young drivers experience semi-hazardous situations in a controlled environment,” Rogich said. “The best way to prevent a crash is to anticipate and avoid it. But we understand that not all hazards can be avoided. …
“One of the key things about this program is to experience things here for the first time so that the first time isn’t 9:30 at night on a dark, rainy road on a turn, and all of a sudden you’re in a skid and you’ve never felt it before, and you have no idea what to do, and then you panic.”
Phillip’s father, Ray Carroll, appreciated the program. “I think we can all learn some things out here,” he said.