Young Central Kentucky drivers learn to tame skid monster

Kate Christensen, the 1,000th student in a defensive driving school for young drivers, stood with a practice car Friday at the Fayette County Attorney Drivers Education practice pad.
Kate Christensen, the 1,000th student in a defensive driving school for young drivers, stood with a practice car Friday at the Fayette County Attorney Drivers Education practice pad.

On a driver training course on Old Frankfort Pike, Kate Christensen, a rising junior at Sayre School, demonstrated how she could handle a car under skid conditions.

With instructors at her side, Kate also practiced how she might avoid hitting a deer or a child on a bicycle.

Kate is the 1,000th student in a defensive driving school for young drivers that Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts and Mayor Jim Gray created in 2011.

Instructors teach new drivers who are generally ages 16 to 19 how to be responsible behind the wheel by learning how to avoid situations that can cause accidents.

Kate said she initially took the Fayette County Attorney Driver Education program to help her prepare for her driver’s license test.

But she said the course taught her a lot about safety.

“I could really see how these maneuvers and things they were teaching us could help us and save our lives,” said Kate.

The 20-hour course, which costs students $350, is held over five days and combines classroom instruction, simulator training and behind-the-wheel driving using a training tool called the “skid monster.”

The skid monster is a device that serves as a car’s back wheels and teaches new drivers how to react in a skid situation and how to prevent a skid.

“We learned how to get back on track” after a car’s wheel catches the edge of a rural road, “how to avoid a drunk driver, things that can really save your life if you are in a bad situation,” Kate said.

Kate graduated from the course Friday along with eight other students.

Hannah Loeffler, 20, who goes to college in Macon, Ga., decided to take the course while she was home in Lexington for the summer.

Elizabeth Henry, a junior at Henry Clay High School, said the course fills a void because public schools don’t offer driver education.

Roberts said his ultimate goal is for Fayette County Public Schools to offer the driving course and teach defensive driving.

“Fayette County Public Schools does not currently offer driver education courses and there are no plans at this time to start,” district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said in response. “We have met with Mr. Roberts about the great work he’s doing with driver education and have taken his recommendations under advisement.

“Our focus right now is on getting ready to welcome 42,000 students back to school next week and implementing the strategies in the Blueprint for Student Success,” which is Superintendent Manny Caulk’s entry plan to improve academic achievement, Deffendall said. “One of the strategies in the Blueprint is a partnership with Mr. Roberts to provide ongoing training for our law enforcement officers, and we look forward to continuing to grow our partnership with his office.”

Roberts said his driver education program has not had to use local, state or federal grants, just donations from private corporations and individuals and payment from students who take the course.

Officials from State Farm Insurance gave the program a $20,000 check on Friday. Roberts said State Farm has donated $65,000 in the last few years. Toyota on Nicholasville donates vehicles.

“Kids think if they are driving safely, they are OK, but you have to learn about other drivers creating hazardous conditions,” said Roberts.

There are more than 1,500 collisions in Lexington every year involving teens, the program’s website said.

On Friday, some parents rode with the young drivers through the training course.

“It’s taught her how to avoid accidents, given her better judgment when she’s out on the road by herself,” said Katherine Henry, Elizabeth’s mother. “I feel like it’s taught her things that we wouldn’t be able to do just on our own.”

The instructors include retired Lexington police officers and Fayette County Public School teachers.

Retired police officer Billy Fryer, the director of the program, said he teaches the students that skids are caused by improper steering, improper braking or improper acceleration.

Kate said such detailed instruction had helped her. She said she gained confidence with other driving skills too.

Kate said she was able to parallel park between two vehicles in downtown Lexington this week based on what she had learned in the course.

“It was my first time,” Kate said. “My mom was really proud of me.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears