In the driver’s seat with Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy

Ted Nguyen experiences the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy with life-changing consequences.    Photo by Calvin Fleming.

Ted Nguyen experiences the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy with the behind-the-wheel instructions and coaching with life-changing consequences.    Photo by Calvin Fleming.

Ask anyone. I love cars, but I just don’t want to be the one driving.

I guess I like to let somebody else do the driving while I can relax, kick back or even post Instagram photos or create six-second Vine videos.

But I would not be completely honest if I didn’t share the underlying reason why I prefer not to drive. I simply don’t think I’m the best driver.

Ask my insurance agent. He can tell you about all the small vehicular mishaps I’ve experienced over the years. To be fair, I was at “no fault” in more than half of them. Ask my insurance agent.

That’s why when public relations professional and friend Calvin Fleming inquired about my interest in taking part in a Mercedes-Benz Drivers Academy, I jumped at the chance. I think Calvin may have noticed my not-so-stellar driving excellence.

After a day of driving excellence, coach Jason and Ted Nguyen share an elevated moment.

After a day of driving excellence, coach Jason Hockenbury and Ted Nguyen share an elevated moment.

I shared with Calvin my complete lack of confidence in what’s haunted me for almost the entire span of adulthood – the dreaded parallel parking.

I also had issues backing up into a beam in parking lots, side-swiping a car in a parking lot and getting my car hit by a careless driver who forgot to put her car in park … in a parking lot. To sound more balanced, I had to throw in the last part.

And there was the time that a colleague bumped into me from behind as I was departing from a parking lot for an event. After that same event, another colleague bumped into me while I was at a red light.

So I’m not a complete driving moron, right? I’ve had just bad luck. Keep on telling yourself that, Ted.

And like many Californians, I’m guilty of overusing the “California stop” at stop signs, meaning that I merely slow down but don’t completely stop.

I can share other details, but won’t for the fear that my insurance agent may be reading this post as he follows me on Twitter and Google+.

After sharing my guarded secret in an attempt at full disclosure, I was shocked that Calvin wanted to be a passenger while I learned from a driving expert from the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy.

The driving expert and my coach for the day — Jason Hockenbury — arrived with Calvin who was in the back seat ready to capture my moments behind the wheel of the C-Class Benz. As a driver of my beloved Mercedes-Benz S-430, I was familiar with this car as it’s always my loaner car when I have oil changes and other maintenance work at my dealership in Laguna Niguel.

The picture-perfect hillside resort of Laguna Beach, Calif. is the setting for the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy.

The picture perfect hillside resort of Laguna Beach, Calif. is the setting for the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy.

It’s smaller but more zippy than my luxury sedan. That could be a good thing in navigating the narrow and hilly terrain of Laguna Beach.

After sharing with my trainer my experiences in driving and my desperate need to finally learn how to parallel park as well as my desire to gain more confidence in backing up, we were ready to hit the road.

As I drove on Pacific Coast Highway along the “California Mediterranean” in picture-perfect Laguna Beach, Jason quickly observed my driving habits and made notes.

“Good,” he said several times as I completely stopped at stop signs. I explained to him sometimes I forget to completely stop, but I made the exception since I was being carefully monitored from the back seat.

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After learning effective driving strategies from the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, the author takes a real-time road test in a new E-Class Cabriolet that puts safety squarely in the driver’s seat.

He also gave me props for driving at safe distances behind other vehicles and for having “lane control” or not swerving near the outside edges of my lane.

My confidence was boosted for my first assignment.

I had to parallel park on a busy street in the resort town with busy mid-day traffic speeding by.

My first attempt was embarrassing. I apologized to those impatient drivers who became befuddled by my lame attempt of squeezing in between two cars. After the third try, I also didn’t leave a positive impression by curious passer-bys. It was really bad.

After some shrieks from the back seat and helpful guidelines from my driving coach in the front seat, I gained some confidence.

My fourth attempt was smooth. It was a remarkable difference. I was able to utilize the different mirrors and target strategic locations to pinpoint when and where to turn, brake and ease into what was once practically impossible void taunting me to enter.

After tackling my nemesis of parallel parking on fairly flat roadway, my instructor told me it was time for me to graduate to hillside parking.

My heart sank. For those not familiar with Laguna Beach, the hillside terrain is rugged with sharp inclines and narrow winding roads.

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Thanks to informative driving tactics from my instructor, I easily accomplished the task.

In addition to conquering my fear of parking and backing up, I also learned some invaluable strategies that not only gave me a short-term boost of confidence but also left me a long-term appreciation for effective driving.

After a month of my life-changing experience from the intensive on-the-road driving instructions, I took what I learned on the road by testing out a brand new Mercedes-Benz E-Class convertible. It was truly a beaut of a commute and was the perfect remedy after some chaotic work projects.

A driving companion and I hit the road for a much-needed weekend to sunny Palm Springs after experiencing unseasonably cold and cloudy Orange County.

I drive my S-430 Benz because of its unique safety features. And I was immediately taken by the E-550 Cabriolet that surpassed my high expectations for safety excellence.

Taking the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet for a weekend trip to Palm Springs showcases its unique safety features.

Taking the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet for a weekend trip to Palm Springs showcases its unique safety features.

The vehicle features an active “lane keeping” and “active blind spot” assistance that immediately prompts you when you’re getting too close to the next lane or if there is an object in your blind spot.  And the back camera is as state of the art of any new vehicle I’ve seen.

The representative from Mercedes-Benz who delivered the vehicle to my home also shared with the me its exclusive AIRCAP system that “virtually eliminates drafts during top-down driving” with a wind deflector and an AIRSCARF neck-level heating system that blows warm air through adjustable vents beneath each front head restraint.

I tested these features out. With one touch, I put the Cabriolet’s top down, and hit the road.

The system kept us comfortable throughout the two-hour drive. It was fun to see perplexed looks from many drivers as we weren’t wearing a jacket. And with extra virtual eyes constantly scanning the roadways, the system warned me of several vehicles in my blind spot.

After arriving in Palm Springs for a weekend, an illness turns into a harrowing adventure testing Mercedes-Benz' unparalleled safety features.

After arriving in Palm Springs for a weekend, an illness turns of fun adventure into a harrowing journey testing Mercedes-Benz’ unparalleled safety features.

As we pulled into Palm Springs ready to enjoy a sunny weekend, my partner began to feel ill. After an hour of getting different provisions for the stay in the desert, I noticed he was pale.

We opted to immediately turn around and get him to an urgent care facility back home in Orange County.

As he slept as comfortably as possible, I drove in the carpool lane of the Riverside Freeway, moving past motorists in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a Friday evening.

I spotted a disabled vehicle in the carpool lane and couldn’t brake immediately for fear of getting rear-ended by a vehicle that was following me too closely. There was no emergency lane and cars lined the general-purpose lanes.

Thanks to the strategies I learned about driving in control, within a milli-second, I methodically applied the brakes to slow down while at the same time signaling right to notify vehicles in the general purpose lane of my intention.

I calmly and carefully navigated the vehicle around the disabled car without incident. Since that harrowing experience, I’ve seen several news stories about disabled vehicles getting struck by motorists with tragic consequences.

I credit the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy and my trainer for instilling in me the confidence and providing me with the proactive strategies to help me avoid the accident.

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Though the driving academy is designed with teen drivers in mind, adults also can benefit from the instructions.

It also was helpful that I was in a vehicle that is built with safety as the No. 1 priority.

That’s why I’ve been a proud Mercedes owner for the past eight years, and now I’ve become an avid fan of the driving academy.

We become complacent because driving is a task that we perform daily. But like our vehicles, we can always use a tune-up, improving our driving skills.

It would not be hyperbolic to say my experience has been life changing. The experience also has made me significantly more enthusiastic about driving.

Now you’ll find me in the driver’s seat.