Do as I say, not as I do!
Driver safety program takes teens to the edge
“Go, Go, Go!” “Straighten, straighten, straighten!” “Brake!" "Now, lift your feet off the floor - and look where you want to end up.”
These commands are spoken calmly, but confidently by trained driving instructors. Each year their words are heard by thousands of teens learning how to handle driving obstacles like skidding on wet pavement, navigating tight spaces, or tackling speed bumps.
It’s all part of a hands-on learning experience called Driver’s Edge. Founded in 2002, the program based in Las Vegas, Nevada, has touched the lives of more than 100,000 students. Many agree, Driver’s Edge helped prepare them for the road ahead…literally.
This free program is well-known throughout the state and surrounding areas for two reasons: the behind-the-wheel excitement and the celebrity behind the driving program.
Meet Jeff Payne:
Payne is the founder and CEO of Driver’s Edge. With more than 20 years of experience in the motorsports world, he quickly learned it takes strategy and experience to master the road. “These are skills I wanted to share with future drivers,” he explained. “My decision to teach stemmed from a growing number of teen driving crashes, and too many white crosses dotting Nevada highways.”
“Driver's Edge was a passion born out of frustration. I set out to prove that kids aren’t reckless, they just don’t know what they don’t know,” Payne explained.
Since 2002, Payne and his Driver’s Edge team, many of whom are pro-racers, performance driving instructors, and law enforcement officers - spend several weekends a year guiding students through real-life driving situations at local speedways.
Payne begins each session sharing the Driver’s Edge mission: To teach teens and their parents the responsibilities and potential dangers of operating automobiles.
“I speak openly and honestly – and don’t sugarcoat statistics,” he explained. “The fact is, too many young people die in car crashes each year. We have to do better. And that’s why we’re here.”
Back in class, the mood lightens when Payne introduces his team of instructors. Their names, (Barker, Andretti, Germone and Luyendyk) create a buzz among those familiar with NASCAR, Formula 1 and IndyCar as they step in front of the room. “Every pro-racer involved gets involved for the same reason – to save lives,” said Payne.
Student excitement builds as the instructors discuss the next step: getting behind the wheel. This experience takes place on the speedway – mirroring real life situations including changing lanes, panic brake control, skid control and ABS braking exercises.
As students take turns in the driver’s seat, tires can be heard screeching on the track as another group of teens weave through orange cones. Parents watch from the sidelines, some with hands cupped over their mouths, some nervously joking, “We never did anything like that when we were learning to drive!”
Alejandro Ponce attended the session with his mother Donna. “In my Driver’s Ed class back home, I didn’t feel like I had enough time behind the wheel with my instructor,” he said. “That’s why I appreciate this program so much.”
Alejandro’s mother says her two older daughters also went through Driver’s Edge. “I know some students are here because they’ve had a ticket or been involved in a crash. I would put every kid through this program no matter the circumstances,” said Ponce. “Parents can’t teach this kind of defensive driving. It’s invaluable and it’s free.”
16-year-old Peyton Jacoby is a Driver’s Edge program graduate. She echoes the thoughts of her peers. “This helped me become a safer driver. Not long after I got my license, I was driving on the highway in the rain. It was slick and I went into a skid – but I handled it. That day, I thought about what I learned in Driver’s Edge. I know it made the difference,” said Jacoby. Her dad Dave, believes the program should be a requirement in Nevada. “My oldest daughter went through it years ago, and now Peyton. Parents and online driver education courses can only teach so much, but Driver’s Edge takes kids beyond what we can teach behind the wheel.”
As for the program founder – Payne says this kind of learning allows students to experience a real-life situation in a safe environment. “Decisions behind the wheel should result in good outcomes versus bad ones. We can help enforce that.”
Payne credits the success of the program to the Driver’s Edge team and their commitment to saving lives. “It warms our hearts to receive hundreds of messages from parents and students each year thanking us for their Driver’s Edge experiences. We also love hearing stories like Peyton’s. Every message I get is like the first one I’ve ever received.”
Although the mechanics of cars continue to evolve and change, the Driver’s Edge focus, mission and goals remain the same.“We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t connect with these students,” said Payne. “We treat them as people, not kids, and keep their attention by talking to them directly and honestly. All young drivers need this kind of education – it’s creating smart, confident adults – and saving lives.”
State Farm is a proud supporter of the Driver’s Edge program and its commitment to safe driving. To learn more about the program or ways to get involved, click here.
Corporate Responsibility Analyst (CO, IA, NE, NM, SD, UT, WY)