Why Are We Just Now Getting Performance Driving Instructor Certifications?
A recent uptick in fatal accidents at racing schools has people wondering why performance driving instructors don’t need to be certified like every other industry out there.
Could certified performance driving instructors bring standardized safety features to tracks across the country and not compromise the hobby?
Summit Point Raceway Crash
During the summer of 2014, Kenneth W. Novinger died after suffering serious injuries from a track day crash. He was an instructor at Summit Point Raceway, and the news shocked many.
Many blamed a controversial teaching method for Novinger’s death: right-seat instruction. Many racing schools purposely place the teachers outside of the vehicle, in a safe location. After all, people learning can and will crash. The chances of an instructor being killed are too great.
You would think the right-seat instruction method was banned after the crash, but some places still use it. Nobody seems to agree on how to safely and effectively teach people how to drive on a track.
Speed Vegas Crash
In February of 2017, another fatal crash shocked people again. This time it was at Speed Vegas, a place where people go to feel what it’s like to drive exotic cars on a fast track.
The student was driving a Lamborghini when he lost control, and the supercar hit a wall, bursting into flames. Both the student and the instructor, who reportedly had extensive experience, died. Police believe the impact did them both in, and not the fire.
Many other examples are out there, like the crash at Disney World’s track in 2015. Each is shocking, and potentially unnecessary.
Plenty of industries have a reputable third party that takes care of certifications. How do you know your doctor is legit? How do you know what banks you can trust to follow certain standards?
With crashes on tracks, people understandably are and should be concerned. Instead of track experiences getting a bad rap, these recreational racing schools can take action now to protect their brand.
An independent certification body is the best answer.
Right now, the various performance driving instructors are taught different, sometimes competing safety standards. They range from how to safely allow another driver to pass you, to entering and exiting a track. It’s not hard to see how someone who learned one method could get into trouble in a hurry using a track with people who learned conflicting methods.
Really, everyone should be following the same safety practices. While there’s always room for personal style, some things are too critical to be done more than one way.
MSF Makes a Move
The Motorsport Safety Foundation (MSF) has moved into a potential leadership role. It recently revealed track day instructor training standards. While plenty of organizations have their own guidelines, none have the appeal of MSF. The organization has earned the respect of racers of a broad variety.
With the new MSF standards, certification consists of six distinct levels. The first involves online certification instruction, while the second uses in-car teaching methods. Levels 3 is still being hammered out, and level 4 means an instructor can teach in a classroom setting. With level 5, a person can manage other instructors, while level 6 allows for remote driving instruction, thanks to the wonders of dash cams, plus vehicle data logs.
Dues are super cheap at $50 a year. Instructors get a helmet sticker, plus a paper certificate and a hard card to display.
Driving instructors who’ve been around the block a bunch of times can be grandfathered in. MSF won’t say exactly how that works, so it might be on a case-by-case basis.
What MSF could do is more than just get everyone on the same page for track days. It would set the standard for how racing programs or schools choose instructors. Scary enough, some of these programs might not have too lofty of requirements for the people who teach you to whip around a track at breakneck speeds.
Thanks to this influence, people looking for racing instruction might start requesting MSF certified instructors. You could use a smartphone to look up if a particular instructor has been MSF-certified or not. Since this is all so new, it’s possible that doesn’t happen. We’ll see.
With a standardized certification for performance driving instructors, other aspects of the industry would be affected. Vehicle insurance options might open up (there are few for track vehicles at the moment). Life insurance policies might not deem driving on a track reason to jack up your rate.
More people might be willing to get into racing. Maybe we’d have more tracks, instead of tracks closing.
Maybe that wish list is a little unrealistic, but who knows? As long as the standards don’t squelch the fun while eliminating close calls and worse, that’s a big win.
Somebody needs to do something, because the current method of no standards isn’t working. The benefits of establishing certifications for performance driving instructors could potentially be huge. Lives might not only be saved, track day activities might become more enjoyable for everyone.