With driver education sorely lacking across Canada, Toyota is addressing the issue with an innovative program for kids. The company is the presenting sponsor of kartSTART, a family-oriented driver education program that runs from coast to coast throughout the summer.
Consider that the youth of today are tomorrow’s drivers and what better way to start them early than with a sound introduction to driving – before they become licenced drivers. While not every youngster is interested in karting, karts are a great platform to learn the fundamentals of four wheeled physics.
We spoke with kartSTART founder, Russ Bond, about the program. Bond told VVUZZ, “The vision is to give Canadian youth as young as ten years old a head start in driving a motor vehicle. We use karts which fit them much better than a 3,000 pound car. Driving is a learned skill, so the sooner you start learning, the better it is for everyone concerned. Toyota Canada saw the value in this from day one, and has been a strong supporter of kartSTART Presented by Toyota. Together, we better prepare the next generation of drivers to join us on the roads of Canada.”
On the surface it may seem unusual for Toyota to sponsor a program that puts kids in karts, but it’s actually on-brand for the company. Bond told us, “Toyota as a brand is built on safety and reliability. They also strive to give back to the communities of Canada and this is a way that they can do that. Community involvement is a big deal for them. Remember, yes, we have Toyota vehicles for the families to try out, but there are no salesmen with us. It is an experience for the kids and their families. I have to give Toyota Canada and Mr. (Stephen) Beatty (Vice President, Toyota Canada, Inc.) full marks for taking an idea and developing it to the point that we have put thousands of families through this program over the years.”
If kids have previously experienced karts, chances are it’s been at a second rate concession operation, but kartSTART uses top notch equipment, similar to what you’d need for racing. The key consideration is that a racing kart is one of the most responsive four wheeled machines and gives the driver excellent feedback, making it a great choice for training youngsters.
Those of us involved in motorsport know that driving anything with an engine and four wheels is not inexpensive, but with Toyota’s support, the kartSTART program costs just $79 for a half day program. kartSTART is open to participants from ten years old and up, and parents are obliged to attend.
Most of us, especially car-crazy parents, have been driving so long that we forget what our first experience with four wheels was like. kartSTART, Bond said, beings with the basics and, “remember most of the kids we teach haven’t driven anything motorized on their own – ever. We get them to use the throttle, the brakes and the steering, to get a basic understanding of how they work together and the physics behind vehicles. Whether it’s a kart or car, they basically all work on the same principals. At the end of the sessions in the karts, we are constantly amazed at the improvement shown in just one day.”
Of course, with a presenting sponsor like Toyota the safety of the participants is paramount and kartSTART doesn’t skimp on safety. Bond said, “We make it as safe as possible. Our course is ASN Canada FIA safety endorsed. We use SNELL approved racing helmets and CIK approved suits to do all we can to keep the kids safe. In addition the groups are small, which allows us one-on-one training. Have we had kids go off the road? Yes. But they end up in the grass and it actually provides us with the chance to see if they know how they ended up here – the answer normally is, ‘too fast!’ I always say I’d much rather them ‘have an off’ in our karts now than in their parents car on the roads.”
With video games being part and parcel of children’s lives, there’s also the culture of the reset button. In a racing game, if you crash, well, just restart the race, but as we know, the real world is much different. Here, Bond said, “There is no reset button. It’s all them (the participants). It’s also a good way to highlight the Toyota Safety Sense in the car portion of the events. They get to see first hand how all these safety aids from Toyota help keep them safe in the roads.”
Bond tells us that the kids that participate in the kartSTART program are all smiles at the end of a day. He said, “There are always two distinct reactions. The kids feel empowered, they are happy. They did the driving on their own, with no parent or friend telling them to do this or do that. I’m always shocked at how good some of the kids are after just one day. Plus, they all want to do more karting, which means they will all be better drivers before they get their license.”
Undoubtedly, some parents are going to be a bit anxious with their children behind the wheel of four-wheeled machines. By the end of the day, though, parents appreciate what the team of kartSTART instructors has accomplished. Bond said, “The parents are relieved that someone else had the job of teaching ‘junior’ the basics of driving- this is what gets us our biggest thank yous! All the parents leave with a sense of relief that their kids are off to a good start on their driving career. In addition, the whole family really likes the car portion where we show off the safety features of the new Toyotas. The general consensus is that kartSTART is a great first step for their kids and they are glad they came.”
kartSTART runs throughout the summer, starting in western Canada this month and ends on the east coast in August. Check the kartSTART’s site for dates, locations, and complete details on the program. VVUZZ readers can enjoy an additional discount by using the discount code “VVUZZ” when you register your child for kartSTART.
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