Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Clinics teach safety for fledgling drivers

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] David Thompson, the founder of the New Driver Car Control Clinic, critiques Lauren Jackson, 16, a junior at Indian Hill High School, during a clinic at Turpin High School Thursday on avoiding accidents.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
David Thompson devotes more time talking about what to do when your wheels drop off the road in Cincinnati than in any other city where he holds New Driver Car Control Clinics.

Thompson, attended the University of Cincinnati and worked for Procter & Gamble in the 1960s, and remembers a far-less-developed area.

Now, metropolitan Cincinnati is a sprawling area that still has a network of narrow two-lane, sometimes hilly, rural roads that weren't built for large vehicles, faster speeds and heavy traffic.

That combination can cause a vehicle's right tires to wander off a narrow road - a common problem in places where the roads have not kept up with explosive development.

When that situation happens, let up on the accelerator, Thompson recommends. Settle the car down and let it slow to 20 mph to 25 mph. Brake gently if there are no vehicles around. To return to the road, make a slight right turn to distance your vehicle from the dge and then make the left turn.

"The biggest problem is, we make sudden violent moves, and they almost never work, unless we're traveling in a straight line and the sudden violent move is to get the car stopped," Thompson said. "Then it often works. But if you're traveling around a curve or quickly change the direction of the car, that increases the problem, as opposed to helping with it."

During his clinics, he also uses his knowledge of vehicle dynamics to drive home the importance of braking as hard as possible in an emergency. He inevitably sees teens in clinics who are too timid with the brakes.

Swerving, he said, sets up a chain of events that often ends in disaster.

"The more you can brake, the more you increase your chances of survival in an exponential way. If you begin to turn the car instead of brake, you are creating new, and perhaps insurmountable problems. If you turn into the ditch, you could hit a tree. If you cross the center line, you could hit another car or a precipice."

So, does that mean a driver should never swerve?

No, Thompson said. He teaches new drivers about situations where steering, under control, as opposed to just a panic jerking of the steering wheel, may be appropriate.

"It's a difference between swerving and steering. One is intentionally changing the direction of the car with a plan. The other is just an emotional response, and it's that emotional response that is oftentimes deadly."

Thompson once wrote a column about trying to avoid a deer. The headline? "Go ahead and hit the damn thing."

He explained: "If you look at the statistics, the fatality rate of off-road crashes is nine times greater than on-road crashes."

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