If you are a parent, turning the car keys over to your teenager can put your nerves on edge. Your fears are well founded—car crashes are the number-one killer of teens, ages 16-19, and every year car wrecks kill about 2,200 teens, and find another 220,000 in the emergency room. Sadly, among passengers of all ages, 20 percent of fatalities occur when a teen driver is behind the wheel. Tragically, Doug Herbert, professional drag racer, found out how real these statistics are, when in 2008 he received the phone call no parent wants to get…his 17-year-old son Jon had been driving recklessly and crashed his car. In the passenger seat was his 12-year-old brother, James. Both of Doug’s sons were killed in the wreck.
As a professional drag racer, Doug knew the importance of safety, and he decided it was time that teens learn, too. Doug started B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe), a 501 (c) (3) organization, with a mission to prevent injuries and save lives by training and educating teenage drivers and their parents about the importance of safe and responsible driving.
“Doug recognized that teens weren’t being taught all the necessary skills at the basic driver training level, so we reviewed DOT statistics to identify the key causes for teen crashes and built our curriculum based on those findings. We monitor the latest crash studies and update the information being taught to our students,” said Matt Reilly, director of operations for B.R.A.K.E.S. and a veteran professional racer.
Herbert and Reilly are confident the program is making a difference. A study by UNC-Charlotte professor emeritus, Dr. Paul Friday, compared the driving records of B.R.A.K.E.S. graduates to NC teens without similar training, and found that teens who had completed B.R.A.K.E.S. training were 64% less likely to be in a crash in their first three years of driving.
Some of the skills that teens who participate in the B.R.A.K.E.S. programs learn are, how to handle unexpected situations on the road, realizing that driving carries a large responsibility, and understanding the consequences of making bad decisions. Teens go through courses including skid recovery, crash avoidance/slalom, distraction, panic stops, and drop-wheel recovery. All courses are taught by professional instructors, some are retired racecar drivers and law enforcement officers, with a 3:1 student to instructor ratio. B.R.A.K.E.S. also emphasizes that teens aren’t just at risk behind the wheel, but are also at risk in the passenger seat.
Unlike most teen driving courses, B.R.A.K.E.S. gets parents involved, as well. “We require parental involvement. This is not a ‘driver’s ed class for teens.’ This is an advanced program. We teach parents how to help their teens in this new phase of their lives. Also, parents get to experience some of the same driving courses as the teens, to understand what their kids are learning and to help reinforce the lessons,” Reilly commented. The B.R.A.K.E.S. program is offered Saturday and Sunday at various locations. Each class is 4 hours and in each class, 180 teens are trained. Chris and Pat Koontz’s son, Alex, of Clemmons, NC, participated in B.R.A.K.E.S. seven years ago and to this day the lessons learned have stayed with the family.
“The B.R.A.K.E.S. experience was informative for Alex and for us as parents. The one exercise where each kid is instructed to text while driving was a real eye-opener. To this day, Alex does NOT text and drive. The results of over-corrections, the #1 killer of teens in NC, was a shock to him as well. Chris and I learned a lot about how cars are constructed, like how important properly inflated tires are. We highly recommend the program to our friends,” commented Pat. After their experience, the Koontz family shared what they learned with Donna Kamper and she took her daughter, Savannah, to the course in Raleigh, NC.
“Three years ago, Savannah was a new driver and got to experience driving conditions on the B.R.A.K.E.S. course she hadn’t yet encountered. Driving with ‘beer goggles,’ to see what a drunk driver sees, was eye-opening. I think every young driver should experience B.R.A.K.E.S. The staff and instructors made the program fun and informative for parents and teens,” Donna said.
“The first year we were in operation, we trained 50 teens. To date, we have trained over 35,000 teen drivers. Some of the cities we visited last year were Atlanta, Charleston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Memphis, Raleigh, San Diego, Scottsdale and St. Louis. Classes are free to all, but we require a $99 refundable deposit to secure your reservation. At the end of the program, you can take your deposit with you or donate it to the program. The program is supported through donations, golf tournaments, a gala and grants,” stated Reilly.
To learn more about the B.R.A.K.E.S. program and sign up your teen, visit www.putonthebrakes.org.
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