Clinic teaches teens necessary handling skills behind the wheel - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Clinic teaches teens necessary handling skills behind the wheel

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Olivia Leppert Olivia Leppert
Paul Hatlem Paul Hatlem
La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -

Teens don't always have the best reputation when it comes to getting behind the wheel, but Gundersen is looking to change that. Day long clinics on both Saturday and Sunday focused on handling skills with instructors, and offered a way for students to practice real world scenarios on a closed course.

"Being here really shows how much you don't know," said 16 year old Olivia Leppert, one the students at the Gundersen Car Clinic.

Young drivers like Olivia got an outdoor classroom and lab experience to work on their driving skills, namely dealing with handling their cars in various danger situations.

"So a lot of times you don't get to experience that out on the highway," said Paul Hatlem, one of the instructors. "It's getting to know those skills in a controlled area."

That controlled area was one of Gundersen's parking lots, where students and instructors went over skills like threshold braking and weight control.

"We really want them to bring their own car, or the car that they are going to drive a lot," added Hatlem. "But then they also need to know the difference that if their Dad's got a big SUV or something, and [they're] driving a little car, things are going to different in that vehicle."

The lab portion on the track was something the students found very valuable, because you can try and fail there, before being out on the roads.

"Make your mistakes here, hit cones instead of other cars or bystanders," Olivia said. "Like they said, they have 50 cones, if you hit one they can put it back together but you can't put a person back together... you can't just set them back up, good as new."

And on the surface it may just seem like driving around, but Gundersen says the clinic is having a profound effect.

"Well, it's actually been proven that our class has reduced the accident rate well below the average, about 25% of the national average," said Hatlem. "They're getting good training in a controlled environment, so they're learning to do things that they would have to do in a panic situation."

Which they hope gives more confidence and humility to our teens getting behind the wheel.

"I think everyone should take this class," said Olivia.

The course had students practice hard turns through wet pavement, sudden stops, and maneuvering skills. Instructors involved also got the chance to show off their skills on the course. During the classroom portion, the issue of distracted driving was addressed heavily, distracted driving being one of the number one factors in adolescent crashes.

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