Friday, December 27, 2002

Car Control Clinic inspired by teen deaths


Training focuses on defensive, safe driving habits

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SHARONVILLE - On a blustery Sunday morning, when most teenagers were still sleeping in, Steve and Penny Pomeranz hauled three of their children to an empty parking lot at Princeton High School.

For the next four hours, the teens learned how to react in an emergency by maneuvering their cars through cones, slamming on their brakes and skidding.

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Penny Pomeranz talks with her son, 15, as he waits for instruction during the New Driver Car Control Clinic at Princeton High School.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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"We have six kids, and driving has been the scariest part of raising them," said Ms. Pomeranz of Indian Hill. "The more information you can give them, the safer we'll make the roads for everybody."

The Pomeranzes were one of 40 families who participated this month in a New Driver Car Control Clinic.

The clinics, which have been offered in the Tristate since Dec. 6, are a living memorial to Makena "Kenzie" Comisar, a 17-year-old St. Ursula Academy senior who was killed Aug. 1 in a one-car accident.

Kenzie was on her way to see her best friend, Morgan Lee, when the accident happened. Morgan's parents, Pamela and Richard Boyntonof Loveland wanted to create a memorial for Kenzie more lasting than flowers. They decided to do something about the rash of teen driving deaths in the Tristate this year. Since Jan. 1, at least 14 teenagers (ages 16-17) have died in driving accidents in the region.

ABOUT THE CLINIC
  Each New Driver Car Control Clinic is limited to 10 parent-teen teams and costs $125 per team. Teens need to have at least a learner's permit. For information, visit www.teendrivers.com. To inquire about scheduling a clinic, call 381-TEEN (381-8336) or (800) 862-3277.
The clinics have been run for eight years by David Thompson, a former race car driver from Melbourne, Fla., and his wife, Jane.

The Boyntons and Kenzie's parents, Marc and Paula Comisarof Hyde Park, have established the Cincinnati Teen Drivers Foundation to bring more clinics to the Tristate.

The foundation will also offer scholarships for families who can't afford the $125 fee. The Cincinnati Flower Show will make the foundation the beneficiary of proceeds from its spring opening night gala.

More clinics are already in the works. Indian Hill High School is scheduling a second clinic the weekend before Easter. Forest Hills School District in Anderson Township is working on a date this spring.

Each student's parent is required to attend the clinic. Many states, including Ohio, require teens to log a certain number of hours of supervised driving with their parents. (In Ohio, teens must log 50 hours with their parents. There are no requirements in Kentucky and Indiana.)

TAKE OUR SURVEY
  Parents, Teens: Click here to take an interactive survey on teen driving.
"That's fine, except the state legislators never gave parents a clue what it is they're supposed to do for that 50 hours," Mrs. Thompson said. And so, the clinics educate parents about how they can better help their novice drivers.

On this December weekend, teens and their parents attended a two-hour Friday night classroom training session at Princeton, where they learned vehicle dynamics and why a car behaves the way it does in an emergency.

They split into 10 teams, each signing up for a four-hour driving session on Saturday or Sunday. Teens learned brake, steering and eye management, along with wet weather driving. Each car was assigned a number and a radio so everyone could hear Mr. Thompson's directions and feedback.

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A driver nudges his car into a plastic cone. The driver backed up and navigated the obstacle on a second try.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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One maneuver consisted of driving 20-25 mph and coming to an abrupt stop.

"You should brake like your life depended on it, because it will," Mr. Thompson told the drivers.

Driving became trickier when Mr. Thompson sprayed the pavement with water and vegetable oil to make it slippery.

The graduation exercise involved a scenario in which a row of orange cones represented a parked tractor-trailer on the road. Drivers - both teens and parents - were told to brake, watch out for a "Cadillac" next to them and a telephone pole, and "keep on turnin' like Proud Mary.''

At the end, teens took home more than a certificate.

The biggest single missing link in teen driving skills, Mr. Thompson said, is the use of the brakes.

Part of the clinic is devoted to different ways to react, depending on whether the car is equipped with an Anti-lock Brake System (ABS). Nearly 80 percent of new cars have ABS.

"They'll drive for months and never deploy the anti-lock system," he said.

"It essentially turns the brake on and off in rapid succession, creating a pulsing of the pedal. Sometimes, a driver will think the brake isn't working or they're doing something wrong and they'll lift off the brake pedal at a crucial moment. This leads to messy endings."

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Lee Isaacsohn, 17, checks his mirror.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Lee has completed driver's education, but said he did not learn emergency maneuvers until the clinic.

The Thompsons said their clinic differs from driver's education because they teach accident avoidance and defensive driving. Traditional driver's ed training consists of 30 hours in the classroom and six in the car, they said.

"You can't learn to drive a car in six to eight hours," Mrs. Thompson said. "This is the first time 99.9 percent of these kids have spent four contiguous hours behind the wheel."

Elena Strickland, whose 16-year-old son, Blaine, took the course at Indian Hill High School, said parents should take more responsibility training their children to drive.

"Parents don't want to spend the time," the Kenwood woman said. "It's inconvenient. It interferes with what they want to do."

Enquirer reporter Jim Hannah contributed to this report.

E-mail ckranz@enquirer.com

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