A timely learning experience

Sonia Straface

I recently had a most interesting experience observing students learning about important aspects of road safety. It involved a high school, a group of volunteers, the Ministry of Transportation, local police, and more students than I could count.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This story began with a desperation call from a lady that I didn’t know, on behalf of a group that I had not previously heard of.

The purpose behind this lady’s call was to tell me that the group needed a tractor-trailer and a driver on-site for a full day at a high school. Among other things, they wanted to teach young people how to drive around trucks. 

The task was to find a fleet that would agree to pull a unit and a driver out of service for a full day – and we had two days’ notice to make it happen.

The lady on the telephone, who I later learned to be Ann Marie Hayes, explained that she heads up a group called Teens Learn to Drive, whose objective is teaching students in grades 10-11 about the risks associated with driving. The target group seemed about right to me since teens of that age will shortly begin going through the licensing process. It’s certainly better that they learn about the risks before they get behind the wheel.

Well, I found the idea intriguing so I made a telephone call to a prominent PMTC fleet member to see if they would pitch in. It took Tim Hortons no time at all to recognize the value of the Teens Learn to Drive program and to volunteer to support it with one of their tractor-trailer units and a driver for the day.

With such short notice, it’s no small accomplishment to pull a unit and driver out of any fleet and to rearrange all the schedules to cover the work that had been planned, but there were no complaints from Tim Hortons. The answer to every request was ‘yes.’

So, now that we’re all caught up with the background, let me tell you what took place.

This was a very well organized event and it was readily apparent to me that a good deal of effort and planning had gone into the day. I saw learning stations outdoors (fortunately the weather co-operated) that were manned by local police officers, and of course I saw the tractor-trailer in place with a police cruiser parked on its passenger side.

Students gathered in small groups near the truck and were greeted by Barry Pieta, the Tim Hortons driver. He explained the various knobs, pedals, lights and buttons in the cab and spoke about some of the things that a truck driver must be aware of while safely shepherding such a large vehicle down the road.

Now, up close, big trucks are an attraction to just about everyone and students lined up for the opportunity to climb into the driver’s seat. The fun part for me came when Barry asked them what colour the cruiser was on the passenger side. 

The answer was not surprising: “What cruiser?”

It was a perfect demonstration of one of the blind spots around a truck, and one that I’m sure none of these students will forget. Barry went on to explain other blind spots and the stopping distances required for big trucks. 

Meanwhile, still outside, the police and MTO were running other hands-on demonstrations, one of which reinforced Barry’s message concerning the stopping distances required for loaded and empty vehicles. Again, all practical, all hands-on.

Inside, more sessions were taking place. In one area small groups of students were experiencing the effects of distracted driving. In a simple exercise they were required to walk along a winding path while texting descriptions of pictures that were on the floor – and by the way, they had to stay on the path. I didn’t see anyone pass this test.

Other students were being taught the effects of drugs, alcohol, and medications on their ability to drive. Explanations over, the students donned special lenses that distorted vision and left them disoriented, both of which replicated the effects of impaired driving. 

Yet another interesting discussion concerned how a passenger can avoid being a distraction for the driver, and how to politely extricate themselves from a vehicle with an unsafe driver. Again, practical coaching tips for keeping clear of dangerous situations.

The laughter throughout the demonstrations showed that the students were enjoying the entire experience, and I can’t think of a better way to learn.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the day’s events in this column, but I was very impressed with what I saw.

The program is driven by volunteers and financed with some grants and corporate as well as individual funding. Schools volunteer to put aside studies for the day so that students can participate. About 5,000 students will go through the program in the school year. 

I applaud the volunteers at Teens Learn to Drive, the police and Ministry of Transportation, the schools that get involved, and all the students that participate.

I’m happy that the trucking community had this opportunity to participate in the program.

And of course, I thank Tim Hortons for stepping in to contribute to what I truly believe is a worthwhile endeavour that could very well save lives in the future. Take a moment and visit
www.teenslearntodrive.com. You will be impressed.

Sonia Straface

Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface.

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