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Not long ago, I had an opportunity to meet Doug Herbert, NHRA Top Fuel Driver and founder of B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe), a driver safety program designed for young drivers. The development of this program resulted from a terrible family tragedy. Doug’s sons Jon, 17, and James, 12, were killed in a car crash in 2008. Doug saw the need for a course that taught teens and their parents the importance of safe, responsible driving.
The B.R.A.K.E.S. team tours the country with a fleet of Kia automobiles with the goal of bringing this unique program to as many people as possible. According to Doug, over 7,000 teens and more than 10,000 parents went through the program in 2016. The program consists of both classroom and behind-the-wheel training. How much does a program like this cost, you ask? It is free to participants, made possible by a number of very generous sponsors and donations from the public.
It’s been a long time since I was a teenager, but I have come to the Fairplex in Pomona to get behind the wheel and experience the training first hand. B.R.A.K.E.S. employs a team of highly skilled instructors to conduct the training because, well, this is anything but your normal, everyday drive. Participants must drive different courses and take part in a variety of exercises, each with its own challenges requiring focus and split-second decisions.
The first course doesn’t look too difficult except for the fact that the rear tires of the car I’m driving have been fitted with smooth drift rings. Each time I make a sharp turn, the drift rings cause the rear end of the vehicle to skid, and I am expected to recover from the skid and straighten the vehicle. Even for a good driver with decades of experience such as myself, a skidding vehicle can be quite scary and it has taken several attempts for an acceptable recovery.
Next comes the distraction course, in which one of Doug’s trainers sits in the passenger seat as I am attempting to drive through a course with numerous twists and turns. As I make my way through the course, the trainer starts barking instructions at me to roll down the window, tune the radio, plug something into the accessory jack, etc. I know what you’re thinking and, yes, it is a little like having a spouse in the car. But, seriously, this exercise not only makes you realize how many various distractions there are inside a vehicle but also how dangerous it is when said distractions take your attention away from driving.
Finally, as I make my way through the course, my trainer has me stop briefly so I can put on a pair of goggles that simulate the effects of being drunk behind the wheel. Once the goggles are in place and my vision is quite distorted, she asks me to continue driving and then pull into a parking space. Despite the goggle-induced vision impairment, I have impressed my trainer by parking the car almost perfectly without hitting any of the orange cones that outline the parking space. For this, I thank years of driving experience combined with a great deal of luck. Not surprisingly, most drivers don’t fare quite as well when attempting this parking challenge.
Think about this for a second. The exercises in which I am participating today are taking place in a huge empty parking lot under the close supervision of trained professionals. Imagine how dangerous – if not deadly – it could be if you encountered some of these driving situations out on the road. While many people are adequate or even good drivers, few probably possess the skills to handle extreme situations that require immediate action and precise timing, such as skid recovery or collision avoidance.
Data from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) shows that fatal car crashes are on the rise. B.R.A.K.E.S. is an outstanding program that will undoubtedly save lives by giving teens the tools to make intelligent decisions behind the wheel.
For more info or to make a donation: putonthebrakes.org
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