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Bonnie Wearmouth sends a text message while driving.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

It happened on a road he drove every day. Who knows what the text was about; our young friend didn't live past the bend. Four years later, the card from his funeral with his handsome Grade 12 school portrait is still tacked to the corkboard as a constant reminder of who we lost. His cheery smile held so much promise. What happened was avoidable. The text could have waited.

As parents, we can nag our children all we want about the consequences of inexperience, distraction and impaired mental states when they are behind the wheel – but will they listen? As teens, they think they are invincible, so no, they won't listen (did you?). But maybe they can learn the easy way.

Ford Motor Company offers a free Driving Skills for Life program that teaches new drivers what not to do by, well, doing it.

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Ford co-ordinates with local police to let the drivers break the law in a controlled environment. By texting, driving 'impaired' and driving out of control, they see how quickly things can go sideways on the road.

My daughter Bonnie, 17, and I joined the half-day class offered to high school students in Calgary. Within two laps of the distracted driver portion, she was surprised by the results. By the third lap, she was stunned. From the back seat, I could see where she was making mistakes but I kept my tongue trapped.

The first lap was to get familiar with the course. During the second lap, the instructor told Bonnie to text as she drove. While she wasn't looking, the "familiar route" was changed to prove that you can't assume the road is always ideal.

"Did you notice that the road signs changed?" he asked when we stopped. Her head spun to see the other instructor waving at her from where the signs were reversed. "You also hit three pylons and drove erratically which can be dangerous for anyone passing you or driving behind you."

On the third lap, the instructor asked her to start texting then turned the music on really loud and was annoying like a chatty friend. "That was too much distraction," Bonnie said. "My concentration was shattered."

She aced the high-speed course where flashing lights directed her to one of three lanes then to suddenly pound on the brakes. But she was paying attention.

"If I was texting there is no way I would have reacted properly. Not a chance!" she shouted over her adrenalin rush. I was relieved to hear her acknowledge that.

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As we moved between stations, the instructors drove home sobering statistics such as, drivers that text are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident compared to a non-distracted driver.

Calgary Police helped with the impaired driving section. Everyone laughed as we donned the "drunk goggles" and tried to kick the pylon or walk the yellow line. I fell over when I tried to walk.

"Geez mom, you better not drink and drive," Bonnie warned me. I smiled and laughed but filed that warning with a red flag.

Wearing the goggles, Bonnie merrily chatted with the constable as she drove the loop but was crushed by the results.

"I thought I was doing great, I was relaxed and answering his questions. I expected a near-perfect score. I can't believe I hit five pylons … or as he said: little kids on bicycles."

It's not just your own life; it's those you involved in the mistake and are left with the consequences.

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The pylons on the texting course took a beating. Instructors said that usually happens. Students drive at slow enough speeds that if they are really in "danger" the instructor tells them to stop. But if the pylons were parked cars or curbs, they'd be a mess. Especially the ones marking the corners – they were constantly dragged out of position.

During the skid control many of the boys did doughnuts. They really pushed it on the first corner and spun and squealed. You could tell that the instructors were letting them have fun. But then the car would stop and, after a few minutes, the lesson on pulling out of a skid resumed. The instructors were really cool that way.

I was not convinced that everything Bonnie experienced had sunk in; returning home, she said that texting at stop lights is okay. Ford's program can only teach so much. I'll reinforce what we learned and lead by example. I promised not to drink and drive and hopefully she will stick to her promise not to text while driving.

The next day, Bonnie and I were driving. I told her what I wrote about texting at stop signs. I thought she'd be mad about me revealing the information. Instead, she has decided not to do that any more. And she is going to spread the word about the dangers of texting while driving.

No text can ever be important enough. That boy in the picture should be finishing university this year.


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Ford Driving Skills For Life helps young drivers improve their skills in four key areas:

Hazard Recognition

  • The point of no return
  • How to scan for trouble
  • Minimizing distractions
  • Safety zones
  • Minimum vision lead time
  • Approaching and turning left at intersection

Vehicle Handling

  • Contact road patches
  • How acceleration, deceleration, braking and turns affect vehicle balance
  • Adjusting to a vehicle's size and weight
  • How to recover from skids in front- and rear-wheel drive vehicles

Speed Management

  • Driving at a speed that doesn't endanger or impede others
  • Using proper signals and covering the brake
  • Conventional braking systems versus anti-lock braking (ABS) systems
  • Emergency braking techniques

Space Management

  • Maintaining space around, ahead of and behind your vehicle
  • Learning how to adjust speed
  • Maintaining a safe distance between vehicles
  • How to avoid being rear-ended and avoiding a head-on crash
  • Additionally, the program addresses impaired and distracted driving through the hands-on curriculum.


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