Never Stop Driving #38: The ultimate driving destination?
The Ultimate Driving Machine should spawn the ultimate driving destination, yes? Over the past thirty years, BMW has built just that in South Carolina. I spent last weekend there with my 18-year-old daughter and left wondering why I hadn’t visited sooner.
Unlike my two sons, my daughter isn’t interested in racing cars or performance driving, but I’ve still spent the past several years trying to get her a higher level of training than the average teenager is provided by the programs that lead to a driver’s license. Good training is depressingly hard to find. I enrolled my daughter in a local driving school, and it covered the basic rules and offered helpful hints, but there was nothing about how to steer a car in an emergency or even how to panic brake. I can teach that stuff, so we spent many hours—often with her protesting—in a high-school parking lot. But it still wasn’t enough.
The key training aspect, in my opinion, is driving a car at and over the edge of control. Drivers need to experience what happens when a car fishtails, so they can practice correcting. This must be performed to have a chance of sinking in, which means some sort of track or big empty parking lot is required. We chose the BMW teen school simply because it was the closest one to us that offered classes in the winter. It costs two grand for two days. A big lump, but it pays lifetime dividends.
Car accidents are a leading cause of teen death. I believe that as a nation we woefully undertrain our drivers, and as we’ve learned over the past few years, the robots are not going to save us any time soon. I also believe that an over-reliance on driver aids is making us dumber and less safe drivers—although that is a personal observation, and I don’t have solid data to back it up. Safety starts with the behavior and decisions of the person behind the wheel, not with electronic aids.
The BMW driving school is right across the street from the automaker’s factory near Greenville, South Carolina, which was built back in the mid-1990s. That monstrous facility now pumps out nearly half a million BMWs per year, many for overseas markets. The driving school is its own major operation, with a classroom building that has a kitchen, gift shop, and locker rooms. Dozens of BMWs, from M5s to 340s and SUVs, stood ready next to a test track that was watered with sprinklers.
By lunch on the first day, my daughter had already looped a car while driving the wet skid pad. The class covered lane changes, braking, and sliding and even provided some light off-roading. My daughter hadn’t been thrilled about going to South Carolina, but I did not have to twist her arm for the second day. On the flight home she declared that she expects to have much greater confidence behind the wheel of her VW Jetta. And she liked driving the new BMWs. Stick to the Jetta, I replied. But there’s no question, the cost of the BMW driving school was money well spent.
BMW offers a variety of classes from one-day experiences to racing schools in South Carolina and at a track in Palm Springs, California. During our weekend, another class taught on- and off-road motorcycling. I might have to return for that, leaving time to visit the nearby BMW Car Club of America museum and definitely drive the mountain roads that are only an hour away.
Not that BMW is the only option. There are numerous effective driving schools from Ford, Porsche, Lexus, Skip Barber, Radford, and Mid-Ohio. Tire Rack supports an excellent, nationwide teen school called Teen Street Survival that is only $95. Hagerty Drivers Club members get $25 off a Sports Car Club of America membership, which offers many local training opportunities. Former Indycar driver Robbie Buhl hosts a free, one-day teen-focused instruction called Teen Street Skills that my son attended—2023 dates will be announced March 1.
There are so many ways to help our kids—and us—to become better drivers. Seize one.
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My kids are grown and already expert drivers thanks to my training 😉
However, I really enjoyed reading this article. Loved it!
Larry, Thanks for mentioning Mid-Ohio. I sent my grandson there for a 16th Birthday present and he says he learned a lot. They want drivers to have six months experience and you can get a permit at 15 1/2 in Ohio so it worked out perfectly. This is a great idea for all teen drivers.
Thank you for this column. Forwarding to my daughter to consider for her teen heading for her first drivers license.
HI Larry, I enjoyed your article, just to let you know that Road America in Elkhart Lake WI has a Teen and Winter School that they have been running for the past 14 years and run about 800 students thought the two schools every year. West Bend Insurance has been a sponsor since day one and really help subsidize both schools.
You can teach someone a lot on a snow-covered empty parking lot
I agree. I also think that someone other than a parent can be a very effective teacher.
I took a BMW Winter Driver Training course a few years ago. It was expensive but well worth it.
Amen brother. Sent my daughter to Bob Bondurant (now Radford) 3-Day Teen Driving Class when she turned 16. Like your daughter, she enjoyed it and more importantly had more confidence on the road. Interestingly, most of her classmates were males who had already been in an accident. RIP Bob.
Living in Montreal winter was a test of one’s ability to keep a car under control, or get it back in those bad cases. Fortunately there was a shopping center nearby with a parking lot extension with no light or other obstructions that was not open on Sundays (dark ages!). I used to go there on the first snowfall to hone my abilities and then took the 3 oldest kids there as they started driving. Cost free but the kids only had me for an instructor, so your BMW experience sounds like a fantastic idea. All those others are good to know about too. Thanks – you may have saved a few lives and much anguish.
Parking lots in any weather are a must for parents helping teens to learn vehicle control. I’ve spent many an hour with my children in all sorts of weather. Manual or Auto the “skid pad” is a must!
Yeah, especially with anti-lock brakes. They need to feel how the pedal reacts.
Growing up in a small town in Northern Minnesota, driving a rear wheel drive (only one wheel drive), my skills were honed on snow & ice covered roads, muddy fields, and frozen lakes. My kids grew up in Colorado, so even though I founds some parking lots, fields and icy roads when they were 15 – 17; knowing the best fundamental training is early and frequent, I bought a go-cart. This provided years of self motivated frequent training in all weather conditions, not the same as a car for sure, but understanding the sliding, fishtails, and how to correct without even thinking about it offered each of them the opportunity to focus on the road and other drivers when they started driving. I can’t argue with the results, all four of them are excellent drives.
I’ve owned 5 BMWs starting with a 2002, 2 Z3s , 325s etc. I found a hidden feature of those cars: snap over steer. It doesn’t take much speed to experience this on wet roads. Watch Nurburgring videos and you’ll see that effect with BMWs. My daughter cashed a 325 because of it. Granted at safe traffic speeds you wouldn’t experience it but that why I’m no longer a fan of BMWs.
The BMW plant is in Spartanburg County, not Greenville!
I was fortunate enough to have two sessions a few years apart at Bob Bondurant’s School of High Performance Driving School in AZ. All the skills that you mentioned were taught.. emergency lane changes, stops, oversteer, understeer, as well as some low-speed autocross practice. Plus we had track time driving the specially prepared Ford Mustangs. Sadly, the school is no longer in existence, but I definitely benefited from that training.
The school still exists. It’s under new ownership and is called the Radford Racing School. https://www.radfordracingschool.com/advanced-teen-driving/
Great article. I live in BC so not too close to any such school. My son took an internet motorcycle training school whil he was learning to drive. Best investment as his driving immediately improved!! All kids should do advanced training.
I agree with you 100% on the need for this kind of training and was glad to see you mention Street Survivor as an option anybody can afford. That program has a distinct advantage in my opinion, in that teens drive the exact cars they will actually be using on the road so they learn the capabilities and limitations actually available to them immediately. Low friction surfaces are even created using dried corn so that those skills can be taught even in the summer months. (I had learned those skills while in college, driving on a frozen Lake Fenton while pulling two fraternity brothers on snow skies who would try to pull control of the car away from me).
I had the pleasure of being an instructor at a Street Survivor event in Savannah and can attest to the thoroughness of the program offered by Tire Rack. Unfortunately, the availability is very limited as it depends on finding suitable venues and car clubs to provide volunteer instructors with track experience.
Yeah, that is a great program. Thanks for volunteering!
Well said Larry, and valuable training info for anyone with a child approaching driving age, or a teen already driving. In addition to being way too reliant on driving aids built into modern vehicles, I wish there was a way that any teen age driver’s mobile device could be automatically turned off when the engine starts / or when the vehicle is in-gear! I believe distracted driving is responsible for many accidents too – certainly for teens, but for a lot of post-teen drivers too!
I agree that driver training should include extreme conditions (in a safe, controlled environment). I always believed that: “…you don’t know how much enough is, until you know how much too much is.”