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What driver's ed didn't teach you

Academy prepares students for potential highway hazards

Posted: February 23, 2009 1:20 a.m.
Updated: February 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A driving instructor with Defensive Driving Academy demonstrates how to correct a vehicle sliding on wet pavement. Sunday's obstacle course taught drivers how to react when faced with sudden traffic hazards.

Christina Miller's car spun to the left while the tires squealed on the slick pavement beneath. But Miller remained calm.

"I want to you steer into it and give it some gas," said driving instructor Danny McKeever, owner of the Defensive Driving Academy.

The wet skid pad was perhaps the most intimidating challenge on an obstacle course designed to help drivers prepare for some of the most biggest highway hazards.

"It was a little scary at times," said Miller, a 17-year-old Valencia resident who has been driving for less than a year. "But I feel like I would know what to do if something were to happen."

The academy, a subsidiary of a racing school, gets teen and adult drivers behind the wheel for an obstacle course that tests high-speed braking, slalom, evasive maneuvers, skid control and distractions.

"We've prepared for the what-ifs," said Allison Altzman, vice president of business development.

The obstacle course is the only place where driving mistakes are OK, she said.

"This is the land of do-overs," she said. "You can't make mistakes out there. You don't get a do-over on Soledad Canyon Road."

Since the class is geared mostly to teens, instructors give the parents a little advice on the road coaching.

"We try to emphasize coaching rather than parenting when you're trying to do this driver training process," Altzman said. Ultimately it's about setting the teens up for success, she said.

"I see this as one more little teeny bit of insurance to minimize the chances of that nasty phone call in the middle of the night," said Agoura Hills resident John Fuller, whose 16-year-old daughter was participating. "She's come home already with little war stories and I think I wish she'd already done this (training)."

Other participants included adults who wanted to improve their skills.

"It's my first time in a sports car and I'm trying not to kill myself," said Beverly Hills resident Bill Campbell, 29, while driving his new BMW M3. "I bought a new toy and before I did something stupid, I decided to come out here and learn how the thing handled."

The Defensive Driving Academy hosts the day-long classes at the Six Flags Magic Mountain parking lot. The next class in Valencia is planned for April 4 and 5. Visit or call (661) 257-8980 for more information.


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