B.R.A.K.E.S. Defensive Driving Class


Sponsored by Kia, B.R.A.K.E.S. is teaching young drivers how to safely handle emergency situations. Students gain so much from this half day course. (Photo Courtesy of David Thompson)

B.R.A.K.E.S. — Be responsible and keep everyone safe. NHRA racer Doug Herbert lost his two sons in a tragic car accident in 2008. Jon and James were driving recklessly, weaving in and out of traffic when they lost control and crashed into a tree.

Where grief could have caused Herbert to run, instead he used it to fuel a new passion: teaching students to drive safely and be “conscientious and confident… behind the wheel,” according to the B.R.A.K.E.S. website. He created this free class in 2008, and since, 40,000 students have attended.

B.R.A.K.E.S. is free to students but requires a $99 dollar deposit to hold your spot in the class. The entire program runs on funding from donations and sponsorships.

Different from driver’s ed in that it allows students to practice emergency situations while driving, B.R.A.K.E.S. knows that car crashes are the number one cause of death for teens age 16-19, even more so than cancer, suicide, or homicide. Car crashes are often fatal, not just if you’re behind the wheel, but in the passenger seats as well.

I took the class on December 5 and was able to experience the benefits firsthand. Every piece of it was exceptionally managed, and most of it was extremely engaging as well.

I started off in the classroom portion. The biggest thing they drilled in was a simple phrase: “eyes up, phone down.” Naturally, you’ll drive towards the thing you’re looking at, so keep your eyes ahead, and keeping your eyes off your phone helps you maintain focus and be proactive, not reactive while driving. 

Additionally, they stated that students should speak up if they are riding with someone who they feel is driving dangerously. Whether that’s encouraging them to change their behavior or telling them to stop the car so you can get out, don’t stay in a vehicle that is unsafe.

After about 40 minutes in the class, we moved outside to practice driving in emergency situations.

I started in a car with no grip on the back wheels, and we headed to skid practice. I drove through a two-part course, skidding first on dry road, then on wet to practice how to get out of a skid. Main tip: look where you want to go, not in the direction you’re skidding. Also, use C.P.R., which stands for correct, pause, recover. Wait until your wheels have traction again, then turn towards where you want to go.

My second course was practicing steering around obstacles. I drove through a set up with three lanes, and two of the lights above the lanes would turn red, while one would be green. You would have to turn quickly and smoothly to avoid the imaginary obstacle. Main tip: keep your hands at 9 and 3 (not 10 and 2) to have maximum control. If your hands hold this position, you have 180-degree control in either direction.

Next, I practiced panic braking. We got up to a speed of around 30 miles per hour, then my instructor would tell me to brake at the last second. You had to slam on the brakes and swerve out of the lane. The lesson showed that you can still steer when your ABS(automatic braking system) is engaged. Main tip: don’t be afraid to really slam on the brakes to avoid a collision, and remember you can still steer while doing so.

Then I practiced drop wheel recovery — where your two side tires drop off the edge of the road. The set up was simple, just getting the car up to higher speeds and swerving to avoid something on the road, landing you partially in the grass. I was told not to use the brakes or grass, but allow the car to settle/slow down and ease it back on to the road. Main tip: you don’t need to jerk your car to get back on the road. A small twist of the steering wheel will allow you to re-enter slowly and safely.

Finally, I did a short drive to show how dangerous distracted driving was and used drunk goggles to see how difficult and scary driving that way would be. Main tip: just don’t drive distracted, either by changing the music or navigation, by your passengers, or by eating/drinking.

All these were done where Raleigh trains their highway patrol officers, so it was a safe and controlled way to practice emergency situations.

Livvy Moore, LRHS junior, also took the class on December 5.

“The most beneficial part for me was getting to practice first hand in situations that would only happen in emergencies otherwise. This was very beneficial for me because now instead of having to guess in a split second how to avoid an accident, I know how to avoid these situations and how to respond if I do find myself in one,” said Moore, via text. 

This class is preparation for real life, serious scenarios, and aims at giving you muscle memory for how to avoid life-or-death situations.

“I would absolutely recommend this class to a peer! … now I feel assured that even in… horrifying scenarios, I have the training to avoid injury and destruction. I believe everyone should learn what this course teaches,” wrote Moore. It’s worthwhile for both the drivers who take it and for their passengers.

With professional training and teaching, drivers will learn how to save the lives of those in their car. “I already feel much more comfortable and confident on the road,” wrote Moore.

This free course is a necessity for new drivers, and even could benefit older teens. No one knows whether they will be in an accident, but it’s much too likely for comfort. According to the CDC, in 2018, “about seven teens aged 13–19 died due to motor vehicle crashes, and hundreds more were injured, and that’s per day.

Drivers who take B.R.A.K.E.S. are 64% less likely to be involved in a collision. I would highly recommend it for parents(they get tips and practice too!) and teens to help maintain safety and control on the roads. Everyone is safer when drivers are confident and capable, and B.R.A.K.E.S. is an amazing way to learn those valuable skills that might save your life one day.


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