Driving lessons can be expensive, and these ones are no exception, which is why Peabody resident Phil Richard, who owns an insurance firm in Danvers, is helping subsidize the cost for students and parents.
Richard will help pay the fee for In Control Crash Prevention Training for Peabody residents, whether they attend Peabody Veterans Memorial High School or another private school. The program normally costs $350 for 4-1/2 hours of intense training with professional drivers on a challenging course, but that price has now been reduced to $200 per person for Peabody's young drivers.
Richard, whose own children have attended PVMHS, approached the School Committee recently for approval to begin a formal partnership with the district. The committee wholeheartedly welcomed the idea when Richard appeared March 27 to explain and board members then asked him to submit some more details for a final vote of approval. Richard has since taken a group of students with Athletic, Health & PE Director Phil Sheridan up to the program facility in North Andover.
Phil Richard Insurance also helped bring the Distractology 101 program to PVMHS this past fall to help educate teens on the dangers of distracted driving, particularly due to text messaging. He says this simply an extension of that effort.
The firm cites statistics that show teens have a higher crash rate than other age groups, often caused by texting or talking on cell phones. Distracted driving, in fact, is the number one cause of death among teens in America in front and rear-end crashes, according to the research.
Richard says anything parents can do proactively will save lives. He says he hopes to encourage more teens to participate in crash prevention training and to get families to talk about how dangerous driving can be while learning how to be safe.
In Control Crash Prevention is run by Dan Strollo. The company says 21,000 participants have taken part in the program -- so many that they go through tires every seven days and brakes every couple weeks.
Strollo says participants would go to a large parking lot at the North Andover site, which is the closest location to the North Shore -- other sites are on Worcester and Westfield airport runways.
This session isn't a replacement for driver's education, but rather a literal crash course in some of the most dangerous driving conditions, including panic stops at 60 to 70 miles per hour, and car skids where the vehicle goes in and out of cones at increasingly greater speeds. Drivers will learn the impact of speed and how a car can lose control even at 30 miles per hour, as well as to build muscle memory in reacting quickly.
There's also a video explaining how seat belts help prevent accidents and the passenger slipping and sliding in the passenger seat. Throughout most of the program, students learn a lot of things they may not have considered before getting behind the wheel, said Sheridan.
At one point, instructors ask the drivers to pull out their cell phones and try to tap out a text message while trying to keep their eyes on the road and avoid any accidents.
The experience is open to all ages, but geared towards teens who still have their permit.
Sheridan said the training session he witnessed was "phenomenal."
"I think it's really worthwhile -- it cuts down [on] accidents 75 percent," he said. "It's crazy not to spend whatever you have at whatever cost, because it's that worth it."
Sheridan says he intends to bring his daughter Dana to the course before she gets her permit this summer.
Training programs such as In Control are touted to reduce the likelihood of an accident in the first two years of driving by 75 percent.
"Fifty percent of the training we do is a result of sponsorship, like Phil Richard's, resulting in about $300,000 last year," Strollo said. "He's a real good guy. His goal isn't to promote his business, but to save kids' lives. He's impressed with the program, and it's awesome to work with such a hero."
When teens sign up for the course, they will have a $150 discount, courtesy of the insurance firm and In Control -- the company reduced the price to $250 and Richard will cover $50. Parents can observe for free, or participate for $230.
Completion of the course also nets between a 5 and 10 percent savings on a car insurance policy.
The purpose of the program discount is to encourage more teens to enroll in the hopes of reducing the number of accidents and make Peabody a safer community to live and thrive in, says Richard.
"It may seem like a potential marketing tool, but I'm much more interested in doing the right thing. It's about minimizing and avoidance," he said, adding that reaching students when they are just learning to drive is key to instilling good habits.
To take advantage of the discount, enter "Peabody Teen" on the Web site. Adults can enter the coupon code "Peabody Family" and receive a $75 reduced price.
According to the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, 17 young lives have been lost in the last two months alone, and 75 percent of teens crash in the first few years of having their junior operator's license.
Strollo says teens often need to "feel invincible," which factors greatly into distracted driving -- including but not limited to not wearing a seat belt, texting, cell phone use, speeding, and a lack of skills/experience. Eleven percent of crashes are attributed to alcohol.
Strollo said the crash prevention program was actually popular in Europe. "Back in the '70s, the U.S. was the safest place to drive. Today, it's in 40th place. Focusing strategically on education and multiple exams, they [Europeans] spend three to four more times behind the wheel and thousands of dollars," he said.
Richard also took the class himself and has already changed his driving habits, he said, adding that he is a better driver now than ever before. After taking the crash course, he keeps his cell phone in his pocket -- even when that little red light is blinking on his phone.
"I learned not to put one hand at the top of the steering wheel at the twelve o'clock position," Richard said. "If you crash, you have a fist and a watch coming at you; it's not worth it. I just hold the wheel at nine and three o'clock. It's so fun to drive through cones and slam on the brakes at 60-70 miles per hour. Time passes by very quickly [on the course]."
Richard said he first thought of the crash prevention training when a client's son was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident where he wasn't wearing a seat belt and was texting while driving. The young driver was left in critical condition.
When Richard appeared before the School Committee this spring it also happened to be a night when Student Government Day representatives were shadowing their counterparts.
One of those students was senior Stephen Girolamo, who took the course himself and said it really opened his eyes to the dangers of distracted driving while also being a fun experience.
"It really lets you know that it's really dangerous to text and drive," he said.
Richard says he eventually would like to completely subsidize the training program for students who cannot even afford the $200.
For more information visit www.driveincontrol.com/peabody.