If traffic cones had lawyers, I'd be writing this from debtor's prison. I hit many of those orange markers here during an advanced driver education course conducted by International Training Inc. ITI normally trains government intelligence and
law enforcement agents. But I attended a class for high school students and others who want, or need, a refresher course in vehicle dynamics and defensive driving. The company uses midsize, front-wheel-drive Pontiac Grand Prix GT sedans for
civilian instruction. But police who train here often use full-size, rear-wheel-drive Ford Crown Victoria sedans, which are favored by police departments nationwide. I wanted to be like the police. I wanted to zoom around the track, tires
screeching, big 4.6-liter V-8 kicking out 220 horsepower, doing 180-degree turns, chasing the bad guys. But defensive driving is about crash avoidance, not hot pursuit. ITI rolled out the Pontiacs. I prepared for boredom. It didn't come. The
course was billed as advanced training for young drivers, but it was better than many I had taken for seasoned professionals. Oral instruction was clear, precise, informative. Track exercises, such as emergency braking and steering, and regaining control
of a vehicle after sliding off road, were based on real-world scenarios. But the truly delightful part was the performance of the Grand Prix GT cars. They were year 2000 models, essentially the same as a 2001 Grand Prix GT I'd driven recently.
The driver education cars had a few modifications, such as the instructor's brake pedal on the front passenger's side. Also, the training cars were equipped with an anti-lock brake disabling device for threshold braking exercises. Threshold
braking is important because braking involves more than stopping. The goal is to avoid collision, which means maintaining some traction, which means retaining the ability to steer around an obstacle. Threshold braking uses enough brake pressure
to slow the forward motion of a vehicle without locking its wheels and losing steering. Anti-locks, through electronic modulation of braking pressure, do this automatically. But teenagers and other new drivers often are given old vehicles that lack
anti-locks. So, good threshold braking skills are necessary. The Grand Prix GT cars handled all of the exercises well -- though several students, including me, squished many traffic cones before we completed the threshold braking drills
successfully. I was impressed by the tightness of the Grand Prix GT cars. Track speeds never topped 40 miles per hour; but the cars, a fleet of three, were subjected to extreme steering inputs -- such as sharp turns. They also were victimized by
repeated panic stops, jack-rabbit starts and deliberate skids off road. Yet, the cars remained composed during the eight-hour ordeal. There was no upsetting body-roll in corners, no botto
ming-out of the suspension system and no uncontrollable rear-to-front weight transfers during panic braking. Credit for great stability goes to the Grand Prix GT's wide-track design, which helps to reduce the car's center of gravity and create
better balance. Construction is another plus. The Grand Prix GT has a rigid body structure, enhanced by a cross-car beam that practically eliminates vibration in the steering column. The car has a four-wheel-independent suspension system designed
to take dips and bumps without harming handling. Grippy 16-inch tires (B.F. Goodrich TA radials on the training cars) also help in this endeavor. The training session confirmed the Grand Prix as a solid, tough, enjoyable automobile. It also
showed that I don't know as much as I thought I knew about driving. I'm sorry about those cones. . . .