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Honing safe habits at West
Driving program lets teens practice
Sara Eagan, a student at West Forsyth High, drives while wearing goggles that simulate intoxication during a driver training exercise at the school. - photo by Autumn McBride

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Sarah Eagan screeched around West Forsyth High School's parking lot in a new Ford Mustang without getting in trouble.

With a little help from a professional driver, the 16-year-old sophomore tested her road skills as part of Ford Motor Co. Fund's teen driver safety initiative.

Ford, along with the Governors Highway Safety Association, established the Ford Driving Skills for Life program in 2003.

It teaches newly-licensed teens safe driving skills beyond what they learn in standard driver education classes.

The program's 30-city national tour stopped at the West campus on a recent afternoon.

Eagan and other students participated in the Mustang exercise, which is designed to teach young drivers how to handle a vehicle when it starts to spin out of control.

The vehicle is equipped to cause the back two tires to lose contact with the surface so the driver has to shift the car's weight.

"Trying to resist the urge to put your foot on the brake, that was probably the hardest thing," Eagan said.

Paul Szatkowski of Ford Motor Credit said the crew worked with about 72 West students.

"These kids have very little time on the road behind the wheel, but they're working through their graduated driver license," Szatkowski said. "... So it's a great opportunity for them to pick up some driving habits early on."

Eagan, along with fellow sophomore Jamie Smith and freshman Devin Baker, also took part in an exercise aimed at illustrating the dangers of drunk driving and driving while distracted.

The students attempted to drive a Ford Fiesta on a slower course marked with cones while wearing goggles designed to mimic one's vision while intoxicated.

Eagan started that mission by accidentally turning on the windshield wipers and the hazard lights.

Without the goggles, she was also challenged to try texting while driving and operating the car with the radio turned up.

Judging from the toppled cones, it was a good thing she wasn't on an open road.

When Eagan, Smith and Baker finished driving, they each put on a pair of goggles and practiced throwing bean bags with Forsyth County Sheriff's Deputy Drew Long, the school resource officer at West.

Long also had them attempt field sobriety tests with and without the goggles to show them how impaired their senses could be if under the influence of alcohol or drugs.