It was the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus that coined the phrase “the only constant is change.” Audi Club Golden Gate has been hosting a Teen Driving Clinic now for seven years, with the same target audience, teen drivers between the ages of 16-19 who either have their provisional driving permit or driver’s license. In fact we’ve even had the same sponsors, 2Bennett Audimotive, Niello Audi and Shell V-power. While some things have remained the same, the single most glaring change we’ve observed this year was the attitude of the teens as they arrived at 8 am on a Sunday morning.

In the past, most were barely awake, and in general, not in the best of moods. You didn’t have to be fluent in body language to recognize it either. Having been that age, it is easy to understand and it would be hard to fault them for that. However, on this particular Sunday morning, while the crowd gathered, and the instructors and volunteers scrambled to set up the event and exercises, you could see smiles and hear laughter. As the group snacked on muffins and pastries, juice and coffee provided by sponsor Niello Audi, there was a positive vibe in the air.

With the early morning introductions done by Event Master, Joe Lucchio, and Chief Instructor, Andy Immel, the parents and teens headed off to the classroom for the first of their three classroom sessions. The sounds of engine revving and screeching tires let you know that the instructors and volunteers were busy making sure all the driving exercises were properly setup. With the focus on driving, we’ve continually modified our classroom presentations to move away from driving theory and more towards real world driving applications.
 
One thing that hasn’t changed is that the events focus on safety, and that starts with ensuring that the vehicle that you drive every day is safe to operate. As the group came out of the classroom, half the 24 students went over to the Audi Q5 and Q7 where they met with Niello Audi Service Advisor, John Garcia, and Technician, Gary Schmitt, who taught them how to do a safety check on their vehicle, by checking tire pressure, oil level, brake fluid level etc. The other half of the students walked over to sponsor 2Bennett Audimotives semi-trailer truck to do the blind spot test with the assistance of instructor, Larry Whitney. With numerous vehicles parked all around the big rig, the students took turns getting in the cab and experiencing the lack of visibility of the vehicles for themselves.

After the two groups switched, it was time to get in their cars and do the first of the driving exercises. While one group headed to the threshold braking exercise, the other went over to the “driving the dots.”  The dots are a great slow speed exercise which teaches the teens about car position on the road.  A number of “bots dots” are set up as a course and they try and drive over them. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It’s not and it’s amazing how far over you have to get to run on top of them. This makes you realize that by the time you hear your tires hitting them on the freeway, a good portion of your car is already in the other lane. Midway through, we swapped groups so each could experience the threshold braking exercise in the dry. Then we brought out the water truck and doused the threshold braking exercise and ran the whole group through a few times. Nothing quite like the first time you feel the pedal buzz of an active ABS unit.

With lunch time arriving, everyone took a much needed break and enjoyed the sandwiches, chips and beverages provided by sponsor 2Bennett Audimotive. Then it was back to the classroom for the teens and exercise switch over for the instructors. Events of this magnitude wouldn’t be possible without our instructors who worked tirelessly all day and sponsors who provided breakfast, lunch and water.

With the conclusion of the second classroom session, the teens came out to what we feel are the two most exciting exercises of the clinic, the slalom and the accident avoidance/lane change. The cars aren’t the only things flying around with these two exercises, as plenty of cones are being tossed left and right, keeping the parents and volunteers busy.

As the teens settled in for the final and most important classroom session, it was almost like the final scene from the movie The Breakfast Club. There sat a group of kids, complete strangers when they arrived in the morning, which had spent a whole day together having a great time in their cars and had become friends. While the event is and always will be billed as a “classroom in a car”, the last classroom session has taken on greater importance over the years. With driver distractions leading to an all-time high number of teen driving deaths, this was the focus of the final classroom session. We urge all parents to sit down and talk to their kids about texting while driving, drinking at the wheel and the distractions friends can be in their cars.

Since we like to end things with a proverbial bang, the teens came out for one last exercise where we combined the slalom and lane change exercise together with a big “S” curve on wet pavement. The best part though is, after one run with an instructor, we put their parents in the right seat and hand them a cup of water. Then the real fun starts! Only one parent noted that they had a bit of water wind up in their lap, but we’re pretty sure they spilled it while trying to take a sip.

At the end of the day, all 24 teens received a much deserved Certificate of Achievement, a nice USB drive and a huge round of applause from their peers, parents, instructors and volunteers. This brings to mind another famous saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  In this case, it was great to see the same smiling faces that had arrived really early on this Sunday morning. Many thanks to Shell V-Power for their support!