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Andy Byers, Superintendent of the Jackson County School System is just another parent taking his daughters for a driving lesson. - Teen Vehicle Operations Course

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The Jackson Herald (Feb. 18, 2004) On this rainy and cold day Andy Byers isn’t superintendent of the Jackson County School System – he’s just another parent taking his daughters for a driving lesson.

Along with his wife, Lucy, Byers is among nearly a dozen parents taking one Saturday to show his two daughters the essentials of safe driving skills. “I don’t think you could give enough training to anyone,” he said of the decision to take his daughters – Emily, 17 and Rachel, 15 – to a Fear This, Inc. course at Year One in Braselton.

The non-profit organization is now holding monthly eight-hour courses in Braselton for teens and parents. Highlighting the need to educate inexperienced and often fearless teen drivers, Fear This, Inc. offers classroom training, a maintenance workshop, and behind-the-wheel courses.

And its mission stems from the loss of 16 teenagers through driving accidents in metro Atlanta during a four-month period. Jackson County has also lost about 10 teenagers in driving-related accidents since 1997. Woodrow Gaines, one of the instructors teaching young drivers for Fear This, Inc., says the program offers something that traditional driver’s education classes don’t provide.

“We teach what’s not taught at basic driver’s education classes, as far as controlling the car,” he said. “Driver’s education is just the basics, we are more advanced.”

Although the Jackson County Board of Education funds a semester-long driver’s education class, the program doesn’t offer the advanced behind-the-wheel experience that’s available through Fear This, Inc., Byers said. The school program also risks being trimmed, due to budget cuts, he added. Fear This, Inc. courses are designed and taught by law enforcement officers. Cpl. Lane Tyson of the Gwinnett County Police Department was one of the officers helping students on Saturday.

The courses aren’t just designed for teenagers, they’re also intended to bring parents and students together. Parents are encouraged to be driving coaches, Gaines said. Georgia law states new drivers must have behind-the-wheel experience with adults.

When parents and students enroll for a Fear This, Inc. course, their first lesson includes a two-hour classroom session on driving laws. A maintenance workshop explains how teens can keep their vehicles safe. Gaines said the maintenance workshop is another element of the course that is highlighted by tragedy. One teenager lost her life when she didn’t understand the importance of inflating her tires.

“Because she didn’t know, it took her life,” Gaines said. The course, usually about 10 students and their parents for each session, also provides five behind-the-wheel exercises that teach accident avoidance. Perhaps the hardest exercise to maneuver is the cone course, a course designed to teach students about vehicle dynamics and the elements of turning in tight spots.

Once students and parents walk the cone course, teen drivers navigate the narrow turns with precision while instructors guide them through the challenging course. It’s not uncommon to see traffic cones beneath tires or view drivers carefully making each turn.

Another exercise is the faster “serpentine course,” where student drivers whip around a line of cones while learning steering techniques. The threshold breaking exercise allows teen drivers to learn how anti-lock brakes feel and to stop safely in an emergency situation, Cpl. Tyson said. Obstacle avoidance is the key element of the evasive maneuvering exercise and the off-road recovery exercise teaches students to safely return their vehicles to the road, should something happen, he added.

“You can tell a difference when they first come out,” Cpl. Tyson said of the teen drivers’ confidence levels rising during the day-long course. Byers said not only have his daughters learned a great deal, but he’s learned a thing or two himself.

“It’s been a good personal experience for me,” he said. His only regret, he said, is that he wishes the course was available when his older daughter was getting her driver’s license permit. His younger daughter will turn 16 in May.

Despite Emily Byers already having a driver’s license, she enrolled for a Fear This, Inc. course. Likewise, 18-year-old Brian Kern said he thought he would learn more about driving from the course.

“I just wanted to learn how to drive better,” the Snellville Christian Academy student said.

Most of the students at the Braselton course are Jackson County residents, but Year One’s location has meant many other teen drivers from metro Atlanta have attended, Gaines said. Byers said he recommends the course for all upcoming teen drivers and their parents. The next course for Fear This, Inc. will be offered Saturday, March 13. Organizers are hoping the program will be available twice a month at Year One. The course is $125 and pre-registration is required.