Coweta to host hands-on teen drivers course
by Wes Mayer
Later this month, the nonprofit organization FEAR THIS Inc. will be providing hands-on teen drivers training course in Coweta County for the first time.
“This is the 10th year FEAR THIS has taught its Teen Vehicle Operation Course (TVOC) Police Training For Teen Drivers in Georgia,” said Woodrow Gaines, founder of the Snellville-based organization. The course is taught by experienced police academy instructors and is designed to teach upcoming drivers how to not panic behind the wheel and handle situations that are the top causes for teen accidents and fatalities.
“We lose more kids in car crashes than we do soldiers at war,” Gaines said. “These are all good kids, but they make fatal mistakes because they have never been trained.”
Gaines founded the organization in the spring of 2000. Throughout the previous four months of that year, 16 teens lost their lives in car accidents in metro Atlanta alone.
“That got my attention,” Gaines said. His daughter was 9 years old at the time, and he did not want her to become a statistic. Gaines founded the organization, started up the driving course and, so far, 3,600 teen drivers have completed it. Natalie Bacho, founder of the local Abby’s Angels Foundation in honor of her daughter Abby, who lost her life in December 2012 after a car accident in Newnan, discovered Gaines’ organization at the Hudson Family Foundation concert in Auburn.
Bacho learned about FEAR THIS through comedian Jeff Foxworthy, who performed at the concert. Foxworthy is a supporter of the organization – he sent both of his daughters through the course. Bacho was then able to get in touch with Gaines, she said, and with the help of other partners in Coweta County, including the Lindsey Riggs Foundation, the Coweta County Fire Department, the Coweta County Sheriff’s Officer and the Newnan Police Department, they were able to bring the course to Coweta.
“The driver that caused the accident [in 2012] was 18,” Bacho said, “and we felt if we could bring this program to the community, the more experienced and more skilled young drivers there would be. It gives them the opportunity to learn and will hopefully save lives.”
Local representatives of State Farm and Allstate insurance companies also latched onto the class, Bacho said. Both companies provided grants for the course, which dropped the price for each students’ registration by $50. Bacho and Gaines also worked with the Coweta County School System, and together, they were able to accommodate the class at Northgate High School.
Coweta County’s FEAR THIS driving course will be taught June 20-22. On June 20, a Friday, the students will attend a morning classroom session from 9:30 to noon, and on either Saturday or Sunday – students will choose which day is best for them – they will go through hands-on driving courses with the instructors.
The hands-on session involves three groups of exercises, Gaines said. For the first two, the students will drive their own vehicles. But for last set of exercises, they will be driving the instructors’ Chevy Impalas equipped with special systems, Gaines said.
Students will first learn how to navigate a cone course, Gaines said. This teaches teens the basics of using a steering wheel and their rear-view and side mirrors, and how to maneuver in tight spaces. They will also learn skills such as how to back into parking spaces, which greatly reduces the number of accidents in parking lots, he said.
The second set of exercises involves straight line braking, where the students will increase their speeds to 45 mph and quickly hit the brakes to stop, Gaines said. Then they will work up to faster speeds and see that the faster they are traveling, the greater the difference it makes in time and distance to come to a full stop.
Instructors will also teach students how to see far down the road so they know what to expect and also how to maintain a proper distance from the vehicle in front of them.
“The number one cause of crashes is following too closely,” Gaines said. “So we will teach them to back off and avoid some of that.”
The third set of exercises involves skid training, evasive maneuvering – where students will learn to swerve around an object in the road at high speed, and learning how to recover from driving off the road. Gaines said driving off the road is the number one killer of teens. Oftentimes, a young driver will drive off the road, jerk the wheel and completely lose control of the vehicle.
Not only will the course provide teen drivers with useful skills, they may also save some money on their insurance. Upon completing the course, each student will receive a certificate that insurance companies may possibly accept for discounts, Gaines said.
Bacho said she and Gaines hope to bring the course to Coweta County twice a year, although they will have to work around the high schools’ schedules. She hopes the driving course will gain more awareness, that more people will sign up for it, and that more lives will be saved by it.
“It’s such a necessity for teen drivers, or any driver, really,” Bacho said. “Especially the younger drivers who think they’re invincible. … They don’t realize that a car is a weapon, and they can take a life with it.”
There is only room for 60 students and their parents for June’s course at Northgate High School, Gaines said. Pre-registration is required, and each student must pay $100. Students may register through the FEAR THIS’s website, www.fearthis4life.org, or by calling Gaines at 770-823-7823.
All students must have either a valid learner’s permit or driver’s license, at least 30 hours of experience, and a licensed, insured and maintained vehicle.