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Beaver County program prepares teen drivers for emergencies

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Laura Harold, 16, of Beaver practices driving on Tuesday, July 9, 2013, with Carol Neal, chief driving instructor the Pittsburgh International Race Complex's driving program for teens.. The course allows teens to practice emergency driving skills in a controlled environment.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Laura Harold, 16, of Beaver works to keep control of a speeding Crown Victoria on Tuesday, July 9, 2013, during practice at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex.

Brigitte Savchik couldn't tell her 16-year-old son Peter to slow down as he floored a black-and-white Crown Victoria through a vacant lot, swerving around orange traffic cones.

She was in the backseat of another car and next in line to maneuver the old police cruiser through the obstacle course.

“We never do anything like this,” Savchik, 53, of Franklin Park said.

The Pittsburgh International Race Complex began offering a driving program for teenagers — and sometimes, moms on Tuesday at the Beaver County racetrack formerly known as BeaveRun.

It isn't a typical driving school. Instead of teaching basic driving skills such as parallel parking and how to stop at a red light, instructors show teenagers how to react behind the wheel in emergency situations.

Students begin in the classroom, where they learn about car mechanics, the physics behind braking and safety skills. Instructors then take the students out in Crown Vic cruisers on a course where the smell of burnt rubber lingers in the air.

Students practice steering the car as it spins out of control, swerving to avoid hitting cones at speeds of nearly 50 mph.

“This gives them the opportunity to practice something they're never gonna practice on the real street,” instructor Jack Neff said.

The instructors have led defensive driving programs for adults, truck drivers and law enforcement at Pitt Race. But this is the first program at the racetrack that is geared solely toward teenagers.

In addition to instilling driving skills, the course is intended to make students more confident behind the wheel.

“This is stuff we couldn't teach,” Savchik said. “My main concern is to keep (Peter) safe on the road.”

Laura Herald's parents had the same idea.

Herald, 16, of Beaver enrolled as preparation for getting her driver's license and the keys to her family's silver Volkswagen Beetle.

“It was fun,” Herald said. “I learned how to be able to control my car better and how you can avoid an accident in other ways besides the brake.”

Christina Gallagher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5637 or cgallagher@tribweb.com.

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