School drives home safety for teens at wheel
Detroit — This weekend, some 180 teens and their parents trekked to Belle Isle for defensive driving school.
Two four-hour classes were offered by BRAKES, (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe), a North Carolina-based nonprofit.
Doug Herbert founded BRAKES in 2008 after sons Jon, 17, and James, 12, died in a crash that January.
The boys were headed to McDonald’s that Saturday morning, Jon driving, James along for the ride, when Jon “drove like a knucklehead,” speeding, his father said, and crashed.
Herbert said BRAKES is therapeutic for him. It started small, a professional drag racer helping about 50 of his sons’ friends learn safe-driving techniques might have kept his own boys alive.
“James didn’t do a single thing wrong,” Herbert said. “But I wish, as much as anything, that he would’ve said, ‘I don’t like the way you’re driving, let me out.' Don’t sit there and be uncomfortable.”
The final class started with an "NBC News" clip on his sons’ crash and the genesis of BRAKES. The story brought the class to silence.
Matt Reilly, director of operations, described car crashes as “running out of talent,” and said that tends to happen when drivers either create adverse conditions or fail to account for them.
“Make good choices and life is going to reward you,” Reilly told the class. Bad choices, on the other hand, will “affect your life and your family’s life.”
Reilly explained as class began that BRAKES is not driver training in the traditional sense.
“If you’re here to learn how to parallel park, go somewhere else,” Herbert said. “Hopefully, what you learn today will someday save your life.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Charles Scovill made the drive to Detroit from the Lansing area, just as he’d done three years earlier for an older son. That lesson has already paid off, he said.
Over the winter, Scovill said an older son faced a near-crash during snowy conditions. Remembering what he had learned at BRAKES, he was able to avoid danger and reach his destination safely.
“It taught him not to overcorrect on a turn when he didn’t have any traction,” Scovill said. “It’s my biggest fear, that my boys are gonna be on the road and are gonna hit ice, and I’m not gonna be with 'em.”
Scovill tried to enroll his younger son last year, but was unable — he didn’t move fast enough and the class filled up. He made sure to get him in this time.
“My biggest thing is, it’s not always what they do right or wrong,” Scovill said. “They could be dead right — and still dead. They have to learn to watch out for everybody else who’s not watching out.”
Mike and Laurie Witt of Midland havethree teenage boys. They traveled to Detroit on Sunday with two of them, Nathan, 16, and Justin, 17. They are at the ages, Mike described, “where they still think nothing bad is going to happen to them.”
Both are licensed drivers. Justin’s big lesson from the day, he said, is the importance of keeping his eyes up on the road; that where he looks is where his car will go.
“They’re learning where things can go bad, how they can go bad and how to correct it,” Witt said of his sons. “How can we start to develop that muscle memory?”
Through practice, they learned. Most of the four-hour day, aside from an introductory lesson and a short meeting at the end, is spent inside Kias, which were provided by local Kia dealers.
After the hour-long introduction, the teens broke into three groups, which sought to teach four skills: Skid control, via CPR (Correction, Pause, Recovery), crash avoidance, and panic breaking/avoiding distractions.
“What you look at is what you hit — some of you learned that on the (orange traffic) cones,” another said.
The material taught wasn’t formally tested. How much material the teens took in or didn’t would be evident on the road.