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Creator of Car Control Class Honored by American Red Cross

An Eau Claire doctor was honored Thursday (Jan. 26) for his role in initiating a joint program with Chippewa Valley Technical College designed to save lives by teaching young drivers to respond appropriately to emergency traffic situations.

Dr. Leland Mayer, an orthopedic surgeon with Mayo Clinic Health system, has seen too many people come to his operating table because of traffic accidents involving teenage drivers.

“There’s a fatal crash every three days in Wisconsin involving a teen driver,” Mayer says, adding that state statistics also show that, on average, a teen driver in Wisconsin is involved in an injury accident every 64 minutes.

Such disturbing statistics, combined with Mayer’s longtime interest in automobiles, led him to approach CVTC President Bruce Barker about three years ago with a proposal that resulted in the creation of Car Control Class, a program now offered twice each year at CVTC to teach young drivers how to safely respond to emergency traffic situations.

For his efforts in coordinating the program, Mayer was honored Thursday by the Western Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross at its Brave Hearts and Real Heroes Awards dinner, an annual event recognizing Chippewa Valley residents “who demonstrate great acts of courage or selfless acts of kindness for the sake of others.” Mayer, one of 10 people honored Thursday, received ARC’s Physician Brave Heart Award.

Wayne Street, Mayo’s nursing trauma director and Car Control Class instructor, accepted the award on Mayer’s behalf, as Mayer was out of town Thursday.

The idea for Car Control Class resulted from a trip Mayer and CVTC President Bruce Barker took to La Crosse to view a similar program there.  On their ride back to Eau Claire, both men agreed such a program was needed in Eau Claire. And, Mayer adds, “we knew that by utilizing CVTC’s facilities we could do it better.”

Car Control Class utilizes CVTC’s West Campus facilities, where the college’s truck driving, law enforcement, fire protection, and emergency services programs are located.  There drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are immersed in a full day of traffic safety instruction, including classroom sessions and practice driving on the CVTC driving range.  Participants gain first-hand experience in handling some of the most common and most dangerous traffic situations.  These include learning how to properly handle a vehicle when emergency braking is required. “I mean full, maximum braking,” Mayer says.

Car Control participants also learn techniques for driving safely during wet road conditions, and they learn such important accident-avoidance maneuvers as how to make sudden lane changes as safely as possible.

“It revolves around teaching young drivers the fundamentals of car control, helping them to learn how to handle accident situations,” Mayer says. “It’s really about giving the kids the experience, giving them the fundamentals of good car control.”

CVTC’s Barker is enthusiastic about the success and the growth of Car Control Class since it was first held with 14 teenage students in April 2010.

“This has turned out to be a great partnership for us with Mayo Clinic,” Barker says. “I really see it as an opportunity for us to perform a public service for the community.

“The crucial thing about Car Control Class is that it really does create for these young, inexperienced drivers real-life emergency scenarios that are hard to duplicate in any other setting.”

After each Car Control Class session, the participating teens and their parents evaluate the course.  Consistently the feedback from those surveys has proven the value of the program, Barker says.

“We’ve had some kids who thought they were going to be NASCAR drivers, and they learned that they just can’t do that on the road,” he says.  “And I remember there was one girl who had been in a serious accident and was so frightened that she thought she’d never be able to drive again.  But this course gave her her confidence back.

“So we see the full range – from those who are overconfident to those who are afraid to drive.  And by the end of the day, they all are saying how much they learned and how appreciative they are.”

Mayer accepted his recognition by the Red Cross with a certain reluctance.  “I’m very happy to receive it, but it’s not something I sought out,” he says.

Mayer says he hopes publicity generated by the award will lead to greater awareness of Car Control Class and of the need for young drivers to recognize that their limited driving experience demands a sufficient degree of caution.

“We can’t teach every teenager with Car Control Class. We can’t bring that volume through the program,” Mayer says.   But he hopes those teens who take the class and their parents will share what they’ve learned with others, thereby creating “a ripple effect” that will result in even more young drivers adopting safe driving habits.

The fifth session of Car Control Class will be offered from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, at CVTC’s west campus, 3623 Campus Road.  The class will accept 24 students, each of whom must be accompanied by a parent or other adult.

There is a $30 charge for the class, which includes supplies and lunch.

More information on the Car Control Class is available on the Mayo Clinic Health System website.


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