Drive to Stay Alive gives teens defensive driving experience

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After attending an automotive "crash symposium" at the San Diego Spine and Research Institute in 2007, Timothy Skraitz came up with an idea.

Valuing the need to build better cars with better safety features, he thought it might be an even better idea to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Aware of the statistics that teen drivers are particularly at risk for injuries and death when driving, he started Drive to Stay Alive Inc. on his home turf in Peters.

"The information gained in the 'crash tests' served as a springboard to get the program started," said Mr. Skraitz, a chiropractor.

With the help of Peters police Officer Dave Stanton and Chief Harry Freucht, he organized the first Drive to Stay Alive event at Peters Township High School in 2007, with about 100 attending.

Last year, the event moved to Consol Energy Park in North Franklin because participation had increased and the program needed more space. Over the years, it has expanded to include teen drivers from schools in Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park, South Park, Canonsburg and Washington.

This year's Drive to Stay Alive will be held from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Consol, in two-hour sessions throughout the day.

Each session begins with a 15-minute class taught by professional defensive driving instructors, who will explain the behind-the-wheel exercises that follow, such as the slalom, the figure eight and straight line braking.

"The latter exercise is meant to teach the drivers how to brake effectively," said Kristina Skraitz, Mr. Skraitz's daughter and the program's vice president. "If you hear your brakes and tires squeal when you try to slow down, you're not braking effectively."

This program is different from others because it provides students with behind-the-wheel experience, rather than simulations.

A second exercise will explain the dangers of distracted driving caused by cell phone use, texting, loud music, eating, drinking and conversation.

Each student driver will be given behind-the-wheel experiences, driving slightly behind a "lead car." When the lead car stops suddenly, the teen driver is asked to stop while texting, while staying behind the lead car.

The exercise demonstrates delayed action time, Ms. Skraitz said. "I've yet to see a teen or even an adult driver stop in time while texting during the exercise."

The final exercise will take place in a Sidne vehicle, which shows how a driver's reaction time is impaired under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The sessions are free; register at drivetostayaliveinc.com.

"The program is unique in that it gives teen drivers behind-the-wheel experience they normally wouldn't get," said Chief Freucht.

The program is a nonprofit funded by donations. In September 2012, it won the $2,000 State Farm Celebrate My Drive grant.

neigh_south

Dave Zuchowski, freelance: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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