Automobile

Top Fuel Drag Racer Teaches Teens How to Drive Safely in Memory of His Two Sons

He started with Jon’s and James’ schoolmates as a way to connect with kids in his circle of friends, teaching them defensive driving techniques he wished his boys had learned. Teens even without a dad who drag races for a living often drive faster than they should, not understanding the ramifications of a bad decision and not having the crash-avoidance skills they need to prevent their own (and others’) demise. The kids came up with an acronym that stuck: B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe).

“I started the program to teach my boys’ friends about being better drivers,” Herbert told me. “The sincerity and level of focus that we have built on this have made the difference.  Other programs are businesses that are out there to make a profit. We are trying to do something good to make sure another parent doesn’t get that call that I got. That sincerity comes through.”

Herbert was determined for this to be a no-cost class for teen drivers so that anyone can participate, and that no one would ever be restricted from participating because of costs. “That’s why it is and will always be free,” he says.

He established B.R.A.K.E.S. as a GuideStar Platinum-rated 501(c)(3) non-profit, supported by Kia Motors America (which gives vehicles and support to the program) and several other corporate sponsors, donors, and grant providers like General Motors. Notably, 14-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Terry Vance donated $1 million to Herbert’s program in 2019. Herbert started out in his home state of North Carolina, and as of June, B.R.A.K.E.S. has taught more than 45,000 young drivers (and their parents get to join them) at sessions across the country. That’s 10,000 more kids since the program’s last milestone reported in 2019.

The instructors are pros, including current and former members of law enforcement, professional racers, and stunt drivers and the student-to-teacher ratio is three to one to keep a sharp focus. Herbert stresses that this is not a driver’s ed class; it’s a hands-on advanced driver training program. The now-retired drag racer is committed to making the roads a safer place for everyone, updating the curriculum to adjust to ever-changing DOT statistics that provide detail on the causes of crashes. The current offering includes distracted driving awareness, panic braking, drop-wheel/off-road recovery, crash avoidance, and car control/skid recovery.

If you have a teen driver in your house, I’d highly recommend this course. There is a $99 deposit to keep the number of no-shows to a minimum, but that $99 will be returned upon request. What the organization has found is that many people, if they have the means, will donate the $99 to B.R.A.K.E.S. at completion. For those who can’t get to one of the courses listed on the putonthebrakes.org site, there are a few others out there with similar goals, like Tire Rack’s Street Survival program and Ford’s Driving Skills for Life

Whetever you do, don’t rely on straight driver’s ed classes to teach your kids strong defensive driving skills. A course like this could absolutely save their lives, along with others on the road. 

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