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Back when I first got my license, my worry-sickened mother signed me up for a collision avoidance course. Keep in mind, I’d never been in an accident, and to this day still haven’t (knock on wood). So, as a teenager, I was annoyed I would have to go through another boring driver’s ed class. But this safety course turned into an amazing experience I think everyone should have.

State Police Standing In Front Of Safety PSA
State Police Standing In Front Of Safety PSA | Patrick Whittemore/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Collision Avoidance Courses are likely offered by your state police

Do some research online, but chances are your state offers an extracurricular course on collision avoidance, or just driver’s safety courses in general. I took mine at the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center, where they train police officers and firefighters alike.

Upon arrival, you were sat in a room with donuts and coffee and were subjected to some in-classroom learning. That was the boring part of the day, even the officers guiding the course admitted to it. But it did teach you some valuable safety lessons, such as the importance of following distance. After that, however, was when the fun began.

Okay, it was fun for me, a newly licensed and invincible teenager. Many of the other attendees were around my age, the only difference is that they’d been in accidents and were being forced to take the class by law. I was there (mostly) on my own accord, which made the experience much more enjoyable.

You’ll gain hands-on experience from the activites and demonstrations

Cones Scattered Throughout Empty Parking Lot
Cones Scattered Throughout Empty Parking Lot | Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

My class was divided into groups of three or four, and shuffled around to various activities. For some of them, we used our own cars. For others, we were allowed behind the wheel of a decommissioned cop car.

I started out in the parking lot with my own car and some cones. One was positioned in a narrow figure eight, and all you were instructed to do was go around it without hitting any cones. I started off slow, but as I grew more comfortable, I pushed myself to the limits.

Another coned activity involved pulling into and backing out of eight different parking spaces. You had to maneuver the car in a strange, star-fish pattern, pulling into a spot across from you, and backing into the one behind you. But the quicker you did it, the better you became at parking.

But the course was called “collision avoidance” for a reason. In the cop car, you were instructed to floor it. And at a random time, an officer outside the car would throw a cone in your way. From there, you had to slam on the brakes, activating the ABS system so you know what it felt like. The brakes would shutter, but you’d slow to a stop.

And it all led to a final obstacle course, which involved handling your car in corners, backing in, making u-turns, and avoiding cones. There was no pass or fail either, so you wouldn’t have to take the course again if you messed up one of the activities. After all, you’re paying a couple hundred bucks for the experience.

Why paying for this course is worth every penny

Cars Driving On Highway
Cars Driving On Highway | Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Other than the in-class portion of the day, nothing about this Collision Avoidance Course felt like Driver’s Ed. The program didn’t just teach me and the other students how to drive, it taught us how to drive our particular cars. There was a Toyota Sienna piloted by a woman who was clearly afraid of driving. By the end of the course, she felt more relaxed behind the wheel.

And for me personally, it was a great way to let my heavy foot get some exercise. One of the reasons I love road-tripping so much is because you can rip through the Carolinas at 90 mph (everyone goes that fast anyways). But at the same time, that course was helping me gain better control of my vehicle. Now, I’m a more alert driver, ready to punch the brake at the drop of a hat (or cone), and got a chance to experience more precision driving.

It’s a feeling you won’t be able to enjoy unless you take the course, or get out to an autocross. But with the Collision Avoidance Program, it’s as competitive or timed as you make it. I was a reckless teen, and I look back with some regret for the damage I may have done to my car. But I’m glad my mom insisted I take the course, it instilled confidence and was an absolute blast.


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