Cruising around campus: Cleveland High wins driving simulator, free day of lessons

Cruising around campus: Cleveland High wins driving simulator, free day of lessons

September 30th, 2012 by Randall Higgins in Local Regional News

Amy Wittkamper, a Toyota professional driver, asks Matt Guinn to change the radio station, a distraction for him as he drives an obstacle course set up Saturday in the Cleveland High School parking lot. Cleveland High won a national competition by Toyota and the Discovery Education Network that included a driving simulator, cash and a day of free driving lessons on Saturday from professional drivers.

Photo by Randall Higgins/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Teen drivers sped new Toyotas around Cleveland High School on Saturday, swerving and coming to tire-squealing stops. Sometimes they were distracted by water bottles, the radio and passengers.

But it was okay.

Their parents got to do the same thing.

Cleveland High School won first place recently in a grant competition conducted by Toyota and the Discovery Education Network. The result was a driving simulator for the school and a day of driving lessons conducted by professional drivers for about 200 parents and teens.

The classes, normally $400 for each person, were free. The instructors included some race car drivers, such as Jeff Andretti, among the pros who came to coach.

Health science teacher Erin Hattabaugh wrote the grant application as a response to coach Leon Brown and criminal justice teacher Cheri Carroll-Morgan's quest for ways to improve driver education. For two years now, most students and teachers have begun the year by signing "No Phone Zone" pledges -- promises they wouldn't make phone calls or text while driving.

The first-place win came with a $250,000 grant that includes a driving simulator for the school and money to spend for driver education. It also included Saturday's day of classes for adults and teens.

As Matt Guinn, now a Cleveland State student, took the wheel, driving instructor Amy Wittkamper sat beside him. He drove the sharp turns and sudden stops of the course while she distracted him by passing over a water bottle and asking for louder music on the radio.

"For the rest of your life, I want you to drive, thinking you are in charge of this vehicle and you are going to get safely to your destination," she told him.

"So we have to do this?" asked sophomore Heidi Barringer when Wittkamper told her to slam the brakes and make the ABS system kick in.

"You bet you do," Wittkamper said.

And the reason, Wittkamper said, is now Barringer and fellow sophomore Sarah Bryan know what it's like and what to expect.