I took my recently licensed son and his freshly registered 2004 BMW 325xi wagon to the Tire Rack Street Survival teen-driving program last week, and boy, if I wasn't surprised. Run by the BMW Car Club of America Foundation, in association with Consumer Reports -- which donated its impressive test track in rural Colchester, Connecticut, to the effort -- it was an excellent introduction to safe driving. And unlike some of the pricey driving schools that we of the gearheaded persuasion hope to attend with our offspring before they do anything really stupid, it costs practically nothing. In fact, the $75 registration fee is some of the best money you could ever spend on a young driver whose first car, unlike some I could name, already has working brakes and headlights. Those of us who know what camshafts are and who learned to drive stick shifts at a young age tend to think we're good, safe, fast drivers out of the box; turns out, we're mostly not. I'm not the last word in driver skill today, far from it. But, in retrospect, until I took some advanced training in my late twenties, I fairly sucked.
Sadly, driver education at the high-school level remains the oxymoron it's always been, so I figured I'd learn young Ike Kitman up early, come back home, and write a nice column about how much his dudeness learned about the basics of car control -- tire contact patches, load transfer, proper relation to the tiller, all the good stuff. And he did -- I still can't wait to get him to Skip Barber for some more in-depth review. But while I'm certain my son will be a better driver after his first day of professional instruction, the team of Tire Rack and Consumer Reports volunteers did more, because they not only edumacated him, they scared me straight.
The topic was driver distraction. It's always been a factor in the outsize teen road-fatality rate, but with the explosion in cell phones and iPods -- talking, texting, tuning, and a plethora of distractions I could hardly imagine back when a friend gave me my first lesson in the subject by torching the rear seat of her Ford Maverick when the lit end of her cigarette blew off on the highway -- things have gotten progressively worse.