Legendary NHRA drag racing star, Doug Herbert lost his two sons Jon and James in 2008 in a horrific automobile crash. What Doug didn’t know at the time was that 5,000 teenagers die annually in car crashes. This statistic led him to found the B.R.A.K.E.S. free driving defensive program where professional driving instructors teach teenagers (and their parents) how to drive defensively and prevent accidents. The program is available in various states across the country, and according to reports teen drivers who have taken the B.R.A.K.E.S. defensive driving program are over 60% less likely to get into an auto accident. Doug Herbert was kind enough to join me for an interview this week to discuss the B.R.A.K.E.S driving defensive program and how we can lower this horrific deadly statistic.
Candace Rose: Why are teens at a much higher risk for accidents?
Doug Herbert: “Well, the fact is that teenagers don’t have the experience. Every year that they’re out there they learn something, but the key is to get the practice behind the wheel and expose them to different driving conditions that they’re going to encounter on the roads.
As parents we’ve had years of experience on the road and driving, and that’s generally what makes us better drivers. I didn’t know before my two boys were killed in a car accident, that car crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers. I thought we need to do something about that, so that’s why we started this free charity driving program called B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) and giving the teenagers a chance to get behind the wheel of one of our Kia provided cars and actually going through some of the things and some of the conditions that they’ll likely encounter on the road like dropping a wheel off the side or getting into a skid or distractions behind the wheel. All of these different things are contributing to driving accidents for teenagers.”
Candace Rose: Can you tell us more about the B.R.A.K.E.S. defensive driving program? I’m very sorry for the loss of your sons.
Doug Herbert: “Thank you so much. The B.R.A.K.E.S. driving program is a four hour really intensive behind the wheel driving program. How the four hours goes is we go through a short classroom period (we require the parents to come to the class) and then we split the parents off and the teenagers off. The teenagers go with one set of instructors and Kia-provided vehicles; the parents go off with another set of instructors and Kia-provided vehicles, they’re learning basically the same things but not together. The instructors that we have are professional driving instructors, so they might teach the secret service guys that drive the president defensive driving tips, so they’re who I would want to teach my kids and that’s who we have to teach B.R.A.K.E.S. students.
It’s a neat thing – they come in, they get to go through some of these situations actually behind the wheel of one of our Kia cars to get the experience that they need on how to recover from a skid, how to pull a car when you drop a wheel off the side of the road, how to safely bring it back on the road. One of the courses we do distractions to teach the teenagers that you really need to concentrate on driving. You can’t be texting or messing with the radio or doing your hair. You’ve got to be concentrating on driving the car, that’s one of the biggest causes of accidents. We run through statistics – what are the things that cause accidents, B.R.A.K.E.S. addresses those directly and comes up with exercises to teach teenagers about what they’re going to be involved with when they’re driving on the road and how to stay out of that accident or what to do when they get into that situation.”
Candace Rose: B.R.A.K.E.S. sounds like a great program that drivers of ALL ages could use. Is this program available across the country?
Doug Herbert: “We have B.R.A.K.E.S. programs in about 15 different states all across the country. Again, the program is free for participants. We want everyone to come. My goal is to train every teenager across the country on how to be safer and better drivers. Go to the website which is PutOnTheBrakes.org. We have a schedule on there. If there’s a location that we’re not at, send us an email, let us know where you are and we’ll start working on that.
We’ve also got another page on the website ‘Bring B.R.A.K.E.S. To My Town’ which we’ve actually had a high school senior use as her class project (to figure out how to do enough fundraising to bring B.R.A.K.E.S. to her town) and she was successful. We brought B.R.A.K.E.S. to her town and trained about 200 teenagers in her city about being safer and more responsible behind the wheel. It’s a problem that affects every one of us, of course if we have our own teenagers on the road that’s directly affecting us. Even if we don’t have teenagers on the road, we’re driving with teenagers on the road, so it really affects everybody.
Before my two boys were in a car accident, I didn’t know that it was the number one cause of death. Basically over 5,000 teenagers every year are being killed in car accidents, so what we’re doing at B.R.A.K.E.S. is trying to combat that number, we would like that number to be zero so we’ve got a tall bit of work ahead of us, but that’s what we’re focused on trying to do.”
Candace Rose: Absolutely. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t text and drive, but people of all ages text and drive. I really think that the B.R.A.K.E.S. program would be fantastic not just for teens but for adults too because there are so many adults that are guilty of doing that, even though they know that it’s wrong.
Doug Herbert: “Right. There again, parents are role models, and one of the things we do is we require the parents to come to the B.R.A.K.E.S. school with the teenagers and we have another set of cars from Kia, and also the instructors for the parents. The teenagers are getting taught by a set of instructors and the parents are being taught by a set of instructors so not only are they learning all these skills and information at the same time, but when they come back together it kind of gives a little bit of something extra for parents and teenagers to be able to talk about because like you say, it’s such an important thing. More practice and more training that goes into it is what’s really going to help the teens be smarter and more responsible behind the wheel.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you’d like to share with us?
Doug Herbert: “Communicate with your teen. That’s one of the biggest things – communicate with them, talk to them. One of the big things that we like to do is we like to encourage parents to give your teenager a hall pass, in other words, if they make a bad decision and they’re somewhere where maybe they shouldn’t be or they’re riding with somebody that was being dumb/being a bad driver or they’re riding in the back of a pickup or they’re in some kind of a bad situation that they can pick up the phone and call their parents and say ‘Hey, I need to use my hall pass, which is where the parent gets up and out of bed, goes and picks them up and brings them home with no disciplinary action, no consequence involved. They can talk to their teenager about ‘I’m not so sure you made a great decision being in that particular situation but you did make a good decision calling me and I’m glad you’re home safely. I think that communication factor is a big, big thing.
What we do at B.R.A.K.E.S. is try to encourage parents to put their teenagers in the driver’s seat, give them experience driving. That is one of the big, big things. They just need that experience.
A recent study back from Dr. Friday who is a professor at UNC Charlotte – The students that come to B.R.A.K.E.S. are 64.3% less likely to be involved in an accident, that statistic just blew me away. We’re really happy that we’re able to offer that kind of training that’s able to cut down the number of accidents by such a dramatic number. Our goal is to train every kid in the United States about being safe drivers and being more responsible behind the wheel because I want them to come home and be able to live their life.”
Candace Rose: Well, thank you so much, Doug. Where can we go for more information?
Doug Herbert: “For more information go to our website, it’s a great resource: PutOnTheBrakes.org. There’s all kinds of safe driving information, safe driving tips, safe driving contracts that anyone can download. Go over the safe driving contract with your teenager, post it on the refrigerator and talk to them about being a responsible driver. We post regular tips on our Twitter page which is @PutOnTheBrakes or on Facebook which is Facebook.com/BrakesWithDougHerbert.”
Here are more great driving tips Doug Herbert shared with us:
1. Establish a safe driving contract with your teen. It is important to keep an open line of communication regarding safe driving habits. Visit http://putonthebrakes.org/parents-teens to download a contract today and be sure to display it in a prominent location such as your refrigerator at home as an ongoing reminder to you and your teen.
2. While your teen likely will never admit it, you serve as a role model and often help shape their habits – driving and otherwise. Remember to always wear your seatbelt, never drink and drive and avoid distractions – including texting!
3. Ensure your teen does not become reliant on cruise control to maintain appropriate speeds. Cruise control should be avoided when roads are wet, since many systems do not compensate for slick roads and may cause an unintentional loss of control.
4. Encourage your teen to leave space between them and large trucks. An 80,000-pound truck is not very maneuverable and has many blind spots. Teach your teen to not squeeze into spaces in front of a truck. Trucks require a large stopping distance. Also, teach your teen to not ride alongside a truck, especially along the right side. Large trucks have many blind spots and often cannot see vehicles alongside them. This is especially dangerous since trucks have a large turning radius.
5. Encourage your teen to drive defensively. Remind your teen to keep their eyes up and look through the car ahead of them. This will help your teen be ready to respond to traffic situations around them.
6. Give your teen a “Hall Pass.” In other words let them know that you will give them a ride home from ANY bad situation with NO consequence. Discuss with your teen that they may have made a bad decision that could have had a very bad outcome but calling you for a safe ride home was a good decision.
7. Teach your teen to properly adjust their mirrors to reduce blind spots. Proper side mirror adjustment slightly overlaps with the rear view mirror, in other words, you will NOT be able to see your rear of your car in your side view mirrors, they will be adjusted farther outward and therefore reducing the blind spots.
8. Practice, practice and more practice. You spend countless hours practicing for sports including football, soccer, baseball, etc. with your teen. Driving with your teen is important and critical to helping them develop into a safe and responsible driver. The more hours a teen can spend behind the steering wheel of a car the better. Practice makes perfect!
9. Talk to your teen about safe following distances. Highway speeds require increased following distances. As a general rule of thumb the minimum following distance should be at least one car length per 10 mile per hour, in other words allow six car lengths for a speed of 60 miles per hour. At night or during poor visibility or rain these following distances need to be increased. If someone is tail gating you or following to close pull over or let them pass. Remember faster traffic is always encouraged to be in the left hand highway lanes and slower traffic and trucks in the right lanes.
10. Keep initial driving lessons to less than 30 minutes and increase the times commensurate with the teens ability. Do not bring additional passengers along and most importantly, keep your cool. Expect mistakes and don’t over react or over correct. Don’t expose your teen driver to heavy traffic or situations that require more advanced capabilities until you decide they are ready to tackle it.