Toyota’s kartSTART Driving Program Puts Kids Behind the Wheel

A unique driving education program, kartSTART lets teenagers get behind the wheel of a speedy little rocket to get a true real world understanding of the physics behind driving a motorized vehicle taught by respected retired auto racer Russ Bond. For both parents and kids, we think that’s a win-win.

Toyota Canada has partnered up the Russ Bond Agency to help give youngsters an introduction to driving and the basics of road safety. kartSTART is an innovative program that puts kids, and their parents, behind the wheel of a high-performance kart to teach them how a vehicle works.  Bond, a retired auto racer and respected automotive journalist, brings his wealth of experience to aid new drivers in getting the most out of their first experience behind the wheel.

Also check out: Chat With F1 Champ and Track Designer Jacques Villeneuve

Now in its sixth year of operation, the kartSTART program schedule includes multi-day events at 10 cities across the country. The first event took place in late June just outside Vancouver at Greg Moore Raceway in Chilliwack, B.C., before Bond’s travelling road-show began its migration eastward eventually wrapping up in late August in Nova Scotia.

Most of the event stops are held at dedicated kart tracks or racing facilities, but a new event in Red Deer, Alberta, required the organizers to create their own track and line it with hay bales. Safety first after all.

kartSTART video:

Driving is a life skill: getting started

There are two sessions held each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The students begin their experience by getting fitted with a quilted racing suit and a safety-rated helmet before assembling in the paddock classroom to pose for an individual photo keepsake and get an introduction to Bond and his team of instructors and support personnel.

An informal, but very thorough lesson on the operation of the low-slung Arrow karts and a discussion about the day’s agenda eventually leads to the attendees being split into two manageable groups. Each student is carefully paired with their ride based on their size and weight, and the program hits the track.

“What we teach here is how a vehicle works,” said Bond with a look of obvious pride as he surveyed the smiling faces of his many charges. “By that I mean what makes a vehicle go, what makes it stop, and what makes it turn. We teach our students what is happening to the vehicle as they travel down the road.”

Also see: Tortuga Trikes – for kids and adults

Bond sees the key to the success of his brainchild being the fact that the kids are being taught in vehicles that fit them in a safe and controlled setting, rather than behind the wheel of a 3,000 pound vehicle on a public road. 

“Driving is a life skill, and we give our students the first step in that process. We introduce the idea that when you are operating a vehicle it is paramount that you understand what is going on around you all of the time.”

“You see, the reality is that  driving is actually a two-part process –  the driving part, and the rules of the road part. We focus on the driving part, as kartSTART has not been conceived to teach you the rules of the road. Instead, we are here to teach you how a vehicle works so you can better understand what you need to do to maintain control of your vehicle.”

“The Arrow karts that we use are the perfect size for kids to get their first experience. It’s a basic motorized vehicle that is proportionate to the size of the driver, and they have been engineered to be both safe and robust. They are also an awful lot of fun to drive!”

kartstart

Behind the wheel: motorized vehicles 101

Bond and his team show the students how the kart works with regards to steering, use of the throttle, and of course, the ever important brakes. The goal here is for the participants to understand how all these components work together.

“With our program, if a driver goes too fast they will spin the kart – but that is all. From everyone’s perspective, it is much, much better for that to happen here in our karts, where we can simply walk over to the driver and talk to them about what happened.”

After three track sessions in a lead-follow format behind the wheel (remember, this is an educational program, not an introduction to racing) the program moves back to the classroom where everyone is introduced to the latest technologies that comprise Toyota’s Star Safety systems. This suite of safety aides is a major selling feature for Toyota’s current product lineup and includes Vehicle Stability Control, ABS brakes, Traction Control, Electronic Brake Force System, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology. Participants are given real world demonstrations of these marvels of engineering from behind the wheel of a small fleet of test vehicles that are on hand at each event.

More info on kartSTART

As an educator myself I came away very impressed with what Mr. Bond and his team have managed to create with the assistance of Toyota Canada. The program is informative, relevant, and safe, but what makes it truly special is the fact that it is also a fun activity for young and old alike.

There are however, a few restrictions. Participants must be at least 10 years old, but there is no age ceiling as long as you are fit and healthy, and the Arrow karts will accommodate drivers ranging from 60-260 pounds. It is also important to note that parental supervision is required both for safety sake, and the fact that Toyota helps finance this program to attract consumers to the brand and have the opportunity to showcase the company’s products by putting butts in seats during the automobile segment.

For further information about the kartSTART driving experience visit their website (www.kartstart.ca) or give them a call at 647-401-5153.

Russell Purcell is an award-winning automotive journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. His passion for automobiles was sparked at the tender age of six, when a family friend gave the wide-eyed first grader a ride to school in a track prepared Porsche 911 RSR. He continues to fan the flames by building an impressive library of automotive related books as well as a vast collection of interesting automobilia and motoring artefacts. Russell is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and is active on Twitter as RoadTestRuss.