A crash course in driving for teens

Written by Neal F. Litherland. Posted in Community News

Published on September 06, 2011 with No Comments

Teen drivers have a lot to worry about when getting behind the wheel.

There’s the gas prices, how inconsiderate other drivers can be, obeying the speed limit, looking cool in your parent’s car and making sure that you don’t hit anything bigger than a mosquito.

Parents of teen drivers worry about all of this, but also worry about insurance costs as well as knowing the manual and everything in it can go right out the window when chance throws a bad situation at a younger driver.

However in 2009 the Portage Police Department decided to do something to address such a concern.

It created the “Arrive Alive” program.

The concept behind “Arrive Alive” is a simple one: Learn how to drive defensively and safely.

Students go to Portage High School on U.S. 6 on Saturday mornings.

There’s an hour of classroom discussion, complete with a Power Point computer presentation about the rules and responsibilities of the road.

After that, students are led out to the parking lot to an obstacle course that’s identical to the ones used by the emergency services for driver training. Practice has been set up, complete with cars and road cones.

“I like to think that the course has prevented some accidents and saved a few lives,” said Police Chief Mark Becker, one of those involved with the class. “Lots of kids really don’t know what a car will and won’t do. So we put them on the course and show them how a car will respond under different circumstances.”

The course used for “Arrive Alive” covers some of the hazards young drivers may not be familiar with. It can be a real experience. As an example, the exercise “Make it Go, Make it Stop,” has the driver get the car up to about 50 miles an hour before being told to suddenly stop.

Other exercises involve making sudden turns on command, slaloming through cones in forward and reverse, all putting strains on the car and driver that aren’t a part of daily driving.

“It’s a question that I think parents should ask themselves,” Becker said. “Do you want your child’s first spinout to be on Interstate 65 or U.S. 6, or would you rather have it on a carefully controlled course?”

According to Becker, most of the students who take the course are remanded to it by the judicial system because the young drivers need to fulfill an additional, extracurricular course in safe driving.

For the first hour, the idea this is going to be a wasted Saturday appears to be a certainty, but then the students get to the hands-on portion and suddenly the “have-to experience” becomes a lot more active.

“By the time that fifth hour rolls around, the students are usually all smiles,” Becker said. “We try to make sure the program is fun, and that we teach everything we need to.”

The first year, the “Arrive Alive” program had 99 students. The program has spread beyond its original, mandatory scope. Word-of-mouth has made it popular.

With more than 200 students graduated from the course, it’s become an activity for those looking for extra experience behind the wheel.

The course costs $85. For those who want to sponsor the “Arrive Alive” program donations are accepted and very much appreciated according to the chief.

“What we do here is a public service, there’s no doubt. But it does cost something to keep it running,” Becker said. “We have to compensate the officers for their time on the course, purchase the materials to set things up and of course, get the T-shirts for graduates made up. It’s a popular program, and we hope to be able to keep running it for time to come.”

For more information on the “Arrive Alive” program contact the Portage Police Department at 219-762-3122.

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About Neal F. Litherland


All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Neal Litherland is a Valparaiso resident who has been a freelance writer for several years. A graduate of Indiana University, he holds a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice. He offers advice on money-saving tips using common-sense tactics. He welcomes suggestions and comments. Contact Neal: neal@thechroniclenwi.com.

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