For those of you with a teenage, or soon to be teenage driver, you can now rest easy. You no longer have to fear that your teen will wreck your Z3. BMW has stepped in and saved the day. Thanks to BMW’s generosity, you can know sign up your young driver for a free driving class called the Student Driver Course. This class is offered at the Ultimate Driving Event, which travels across the United States.
Saturday, December 4, I drove up to the Arlington International Racecourse to participate in the Student Driver Course. At 9:15 in the morning, I arrived amid a parking lot full X5s. There were beautiful Bimmers everywhere. Off in the distance, there was the wild scream of a 750iL speeding out of the AIR parking lot. I have never heard such a sweet sounding engine.
After going through registration, I made my way to the Orientation Room. The instructors, all involved in the field of racing, gave a 30 minute speech in vehicle dynamics. The speech alone was more information than I had received in a semester’s worth of Driver’s Education. The instructors discussed how to control a skid and the definitions of understeer and oversteer. The instructors also explained the various benefits and faults of traction control and ABS brakes.
After being divided into three groups, we finally hit the pavement. There are three different exercises we would complete before the class was over. They are as follows:
This exercise has real world implications. Even if you don’t own a BMW, or don’t allow your teenager to drive your Bimmer, there is a lot to gain from this exercise. To begin, we pulled up to the starting line. When instructed, we floored the gas pedal and accelerated to approximately 45 mph. When the instructor’s fingernails were sufficiently dug into the center arm rest, he would tell us to brake.
On my first try, the instructor had me brake 3/4 the way down the straight. On my second try, the instructor had me brake through the turn. I was really impressed by the stability of the car. My mind told me it was impossible to brake hard and turn. But, the 328i stayed right on course. It took a conscious effort not to let off the brake when the ABS engaged. Like most drivers, I knew not to let off the brake, but my mind told me otherwise.
The Skid Mat:
For those of you who live in the Snow Belt, the Skid Mat holds a wealth of knowledge. The Skid Mat is essentially a giant tarp covered in soapy water. To begin, we pulled up to the edge of the mat and then gave the steering wheel 1/4 of a turn. Then we floored the gas pedal and tried to make a full right turn without losing control.
On both tries, I successfully negotiated the Skid Mat. The traction control was flawless, and smoothly back down the throttle. On both tries, I had to counter-steer a bit, although I never felt like the car was going to spin out of control. After my turn was done, I took my position in the back seat. To have some fun with the other driver, the instructor turned off the traction control. Instead of taking the turn, we spun out.
Many drivers, when confronted with an accident ahead, instinctively slam on the brakes. A better solution would be to avoid the accident all together. Often, there isn’t enough time and space to brake. To prove this point, the instructors had us do our own emergence lane changes. To start, we accelerated full-throttle down the straight-away to about 40 mph. Then when we approached the lane change, we swerved quickly, and then braked to a stop.
On my first try, I anticipated too much. Instead of quickly swerving through the cones, I merely “carved” my way through them. The second time around, tried to act as surprised as possible. Another driver was attempting the same exercise. But, he braked as he was swerving to the other lane and really lost it. No harm was done though. In fact, that is the great thing about the Student Driver Course; you can exceed your limits and not do any harm.
Being 17 years old, I am a relatively new driver. I found the Student Driver Course to be an excellent resource. Don’t allow your teenage driver to drive you BMW unless they agree to take this course. Being a BMW fan, and hopefully a future BMW owner, I found this to be the best 2 hours of my life. Hopefully, those 2 hours will make for a lifetime of enjoyable driving. For more information, call BMW at: 1-800-961-4BMW.