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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Amateurs Feel the Need for Speed, but is it Safe?

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A driving instructor and operations manager for the Richard Petty Driving Experience and Exotic Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida was killed Sunday while a passenger in a high-speed ride around the racetrack. According to the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), as a 24-year-old driver moved through the course, he failed to maneuver the high-powered race car through one of the curves. He lost control of the Lamborghini striking a guardrail on the passenger side. The driving instructor/passenger was pronounced dead at the scene; the driver was treated at Celebration Hospital for minor injuries and released. Both men were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash. The crash remains under investigation.

Although located on Disney property near the Magic Kingdom, both experiences at the Speedway are run by Petty Holdings LLC, which operates similar attractions around the country. The Richard Petty Driving Experience, where fans can drive NASCAR cars or ride shotgun at speeds as fast as 165 mph, opened in Orlando in 1997. Four years ago, Petty Holdings introduced the exotic-car experience, where guests can drive Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches. During the Exotic Driving Experience an employee sits in the passenger seat beside the guest. The track is specifically designed for drivers to safely experience the cars’ powerful acceleration, speed and handling, but the employee has the ability to reduce the car’s power if they feel it’s going too fast or the driver is out of control. Guests must be at least 18 years old with a valid driver’s license to participate in the driving experience. Before jumping inside the car guests are shown a short video and given a few safety instructions. Once behind the wheel, track officials monitor the track and make sure each car is a safe distance away from the other. A video camera tapes the whole driving experience.

Was the driver going too fast and lost control too quickly? Was there an error in judgment on the part of the instructor? Was there a maintenance issue or otherwise defect in the vehicle? While the FHP will be reviewing video footage to help determine the cause of this fatal accident, what is clear is that these driving instructors have inherently dangerous jobs, and any time a possible novice is on a track in a powerful vehicle, accidents can happen.

Petty Holdings has other Exotic Driving Experience attractions at speedways in Atlanta, Daytona Beach, New Jersey, Kansas, New Hampshire and Texas. This is the first fatality on the speedway which is located on Disney property outside the Magic Kingdom. The only other fatality was in 2008 when a 60-year-old amateur driver was killed at the Daytona Beach track. He had a heart attack on track and crashed into a wall. In February, Disney announced the attraction outside the Magic Kingdom would close this summer to make way for transportation improvements.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.