On the Right Track
Retired police officer Andrew Wunderlich works to keep teens safe with his Teen Road to Safety driving school.
When Andrew Wunderlich was a rookie police officer, he was called to the scene of his first traffic collision: two possible fatalities, one suspected intoxicated driver and emergency vehicles on arrival. When he pulled up, the story unfurled. Two 16-year-olds had been on their way back from a date when they were T-boned by a drunk driver who had run a red light. The two teenagers were dead; the drunk driver was unharmed. And, as if the scenario couldn’t get any worse, one of the paramedics on the scene was the father of the young girl killed. “Not only did we have to secure the scene and handcuff the suspect, but we had to restrain the paramedic who wanted to kill this drunk driver,” says Wunderlich. “My mind was reeling. I thought, ‘Is this what police work is all about?’”
The answer turned out to be yes, and no. After 21 years as an LAPD officer working everything from narcotics and gangs to routine patrol, Wunderlich found that his passion was in traffic enforcement. He became a drug recognition expert, mastering the art and science of detecting not only alcohol in drivers, but prescription and illegal drugs as well. Whether through this experience or his very first DUI encounter as a rookie, Wunderlich, now retired, gained a deep appreciation for the importance of safe driving, a skill he’s intent on passing on to teenagers with the driving school he founded, Teen Road to Safety.
Teen Road to Safety is not your average driving school. For one, all of its instructors are current or retired police officers, CHP or military personnel. Secondly, driver’s training goes far beyond the required six hours of instructed driving in order to obtain a license in California. Students at Teen Road to Safety are not only taught the basics in order to pass their driving test, but are also taught how to regain control of a car after it has spun out; how to navigate obstacles in the road; and the effect that texting and driving can have on their ability to drive safely. Wunderlich and his team even go as far as to outfit teens with drunk driving goggles that simulate being intoxicated in order to demonstrate how dangerous it is to drive while impaired. “Statistically, teenagers are the age group at the highest risk of being involved in a car crash,” says Wunderlich. “From what I’ve seen, this is due not only to inexperience but lack of training.”
Translation: Even good kids who are doing nothing wrong while driving are at a higher risk of being involved in a car crash simply due to their lack of exposure to common traffic scenarios. “Parents need to understand that driving was much different back when we learned,” says Wunderlich. “We didn’t have as many drivers; there weren’t as many distractions; roads are wider and speed limits are higher; and cars are made faster and lighter now.”
Teen Road to Safety’s closed-course driver’s training addresses all of these scenarios with its EVOC-inspired track. (The Emergency Vehicle Operation Course is what’s used by police officers in their own training.) Partnering with local Ford dealerships has also been beneficial, as teens get to drive new Ford Mustangs and feel the nuances of a modern car, which is often not the case in other driving schools. But most of all, it’s the instructors – the current or former police and military personnel – who go above and beyond each day to teach teens how to drive safely. “I don’t think there’s anybody who works for us who hasn’t seen somebody killed in a car crash,” says Wunderlich. “And why not teach these kids the right way? They drive on the same roads as you and I so it makes perfect sense to teach them correctly.”
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