Melaina Riley was tired. Weekend mornings are meant for sleeping in.
But at 8:30 a.m. on a recent Saturday, the 16-year-old Deer Creek High School student wasn't tucked in her bed. She was at Remington Park, taking the keys and the driver's seat in a turbocharged BMW 300i sports car.
Talk about a wakeup call.
“I was nervous,” Riley said. “I didn't know what to expect.”
Riley and about 70 other area high school students gathered in the large parking lot outside the casino for Bridgestone's Teen's Drive Smart campaign — a free clinic that takes an advanced approach to driver's education.
Its aim is to reduce the No. 1 killer of American teenagers today: automobile accidents.
“In typical driver's education, people are never taught car control, they're taught rules of the road,” said Brian Cole, a professional driver at the clinic. “We obviously need to know those rules, but it's car control that saves you when things go wrong.”
Along with the opportunity to drive with professionals through an obstacle course, students endured hands-on training and instruction on perfecting their driving abilities.
After the students were divided into teams, they ventured out to five stations. Three were instructional discussions about vehicle safety, maintenance and tire information. Another tested students' abilities to text message while driving golf carts through a cone raceway.
Some students had just received their learner's permits. Others, like Riley, were newcomers to the road as licensed drivers.
“She's been driving for not quite a year yet, since she got her license,” said Patrick Riley, Melaina's dad. “I think continuing education is important and we kind of forget that. I think they're teaching things here that they don't teach in a standard driver's education class.”
But watching his daughter drift across the designated skid pad area in a flash of hot silver metal was a bit nerve-racking.
“Sure, you're a little apprehensive watching what's going on,” Patrick Riley said. “But I think the organization has done a good job of taking measures to protect the kids.”
Riley emerged from the car safely with a smile. She didn't hit a single cone on the first run through — something she was quite proud of.
“I think the fact that I didn't hit any cones is helpful,” Melaina Riley said. “It just makes you feel good.”
Cole said her reaction is typical of most uneasy teenagers who first get behind the wheel at the clinic.
“In all honesty, some of them have been forced to come by their parents,” Cole said. “But at the end everybody loves it. I think a lot of them are surprised by how little they know in the car and how weak their car control skills actually are.”
Oklahoma City is a stop on a 12-city nationwide tour for the program. For more information on Bridgestone and its efforts to improve teen driving safety, visit www.teensdrivesmarttour.com.
As the tour moves on, Cole has one big piece of advice for teen drivers everywhere:
“As silly as it sounds, they don't look where they want to go,” Cole said. “They look where they're going. There's a huge difference.”