When a vehicle starts to skid, a rush of adrenalin may prompt drivers to make accident-causing errors. Colorado drivers know this feeling all too well as winter driving conditions can make city and mountain driving nothing short of treacherous.
Michal Michalkow, an emergency medical technician (EMT) and owner of First Gear Skid School, has seen firsthand the aftermath of accidents that occur when road conditions are poor. The inspiration for opening his school came from the realization that drivers, if properly trained, can avoid many roadway crashes.
The school, which initially trained first responders, now trains licensed drivers of all ages. Michalkow points out that most driver education courses don’t include winter and hazardous driving instruction—and lack of experience and the temptations of distracted driving can create a dangerous combination on icy roads.
Using the Skidcar System®, a mechanism that attaches to the bottom of a vehicle and simulates skids and spin-outs, Michalkow instructs four to five students per class to “handle a vehicle in stressful situations.” Focusing on a “point of fixation,” he teaches students to look where they want to go in a skid instead of concentrating on the direction they want to avoid. “It’s amazing how well this technique works,” he says. “Through repetition and a one-step-at-a-time approach, students learn skills and retain muscle memory to react appropriately in hazardous conditions.”
Stapleton neighbors Will Draper and Lily Martin became licensed drivers in 2017. A driver education course and behind-the-wheel practice taught them rules of the road, basic safety and responsible driving tips. What neither teen experienced was hands-on training that addressed driving in adverse weather and hazardous road conditions.
Knowing he would feel better about his son’s safety with some additional training, Will’s dad, Doug Draper, researched hazardous driving schools and decided on the First Gear Skid School class to give his son an added layer of experience and confidence. Will and Lily took the class together and Doug went “along for the ride” to learn for himself what the training entailed.
A junior at George Washington High School, Will says he experienced his first vehicle skid during training. Will drives his sister and cousin to school in his 2003 Subaru and was slightly nervous about the prospect of driving on icy streets. He says he was glad to have a chance to learn what losing control of a car feels like in a controlled setting.
Lily, also apprehensive about driving in bad weather, wanted to learn the skills it takes “to respond confidently” if her car begins to slide on slick roads. “Learning to turn into the skid was new and kind of scary,” she says. It took her a while to get used to it, but once she did “it wasn’t that hard.”
Both teens said they felt safe the entire time. “Michal put everyone at ease before we ever got into the car,” Draper says. Martin adds that the class “put responsible driving in perspective.” “It’s nice to know I can keep myself and others safe,” she says.
First Gear Skid School sessions are held almost year-round and begin with an hour of classroom instruction followed by three hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. Michalkow says students take turns driving and “have the chance to learn from their mistakes and those of their classmates.”
For more information about First Gear Skid School, visit www.firstgearskidschool.com or call 720.202.6414.