Winston Salem Journal


Teenage driving course at Charlotte Motor Speedway provides much-needed safety tips


CONCORD – In parenting there are different life levels where we accept what’s happening. And one of those levels is when your two children are teenagers it’s harder and harder to get together for a family outing.

Well, our two teenagers had no choice on Sunday for this important family outing when we took them to Charlotte Motor Speedway. But there was no race scheduled.

Instead, we had signed up our 19 and 17-year-old to Doug Herbert’s BRAKES class. It’s a behind-the-wheel training session that lasts three hours and is geared toward teenagers becoming better – and more aware – drivers.

Now that I have your attention if you have teenage drivers in your house here’s what our two were exposed to. There were instructors galore with two children per car, and they went over everything from how to come out of a skid to how to properly use anti-lock brakes in a complete stop or how to turn while the brakes are locked up. The teenagers get a chance to go through a controlled skid where they learn how to correct it going between 12 and 15 MPH.

Ever since our oldest got close to getting her license three years ago we heard from friends about this course, which is also offered in Raleigh and is simply known as a defensive driving course. We could never get it to fit our schedule until Sunday. It was worth it.

There’s a $99 charge/donation for each child that signs up, but the bonus is my wife and I also got to take part in getting some behind-the-wheel experience. Yes, parents are also given refresher instructions and tips on how to be safer drivers.

The reality is for parents is that we have driven for so long it becomes routine, but it’s really not.

The program was started by Herbert, a Hall of Fame drag racer who lost two sons in a car accident. BRAKES stands for "Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe," and it’s a great program that at least gets the teenagers thinking about what can happen in a car.

Since the program was started there have been more than 100,000 teenagers from all over the United States and five different countries who have made the effort to get to one of the classes. Research at the University of North Carolina said that 64% of those who have gone through the program are less likely to get into an accident.

About 40 teenagers make up a class and the classroom setting is in a suite overlooking the Charlotte Motor Speedway's drag racing track. Thanks to KIA, which along with Walmart, are major sponsors, the teenagers and their parents get behind the wheel to learn more than the driver's education classes in high schools.

The best part is the teenagers are not in the cars with their parents because they’ve heard us too many times. The teenagers are in the cars with instructors who are passionate about helping teenagers learn as much as they can.

There’s no breakdown on the ages, but teenagers are the least experienced drivers on the road.

Herbert started the program in 2008 after his sons, Jon and James, were killed in a car accident. Jon was just 17 and his little brother was 12 when they died in Charlotte after Jon was weaving in and out of traffic before getting hit head on by another car.

Herbert’s goal in starting the program was to try and help prevent other families from the grief he experienced. Herbert’s story was detailed in People Magazine a few years ago and while he’s a legend in the drag racing circles and is in the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame, his work with the BRAKES program has been outstanding.

He wants to teach young drivers to have confident skills and getting them behind the wheel is the best way to do it. The fleet of cars, thanks to KIA, has made the program one of the best in the country. There are also classes scheduled all over the United States throughout this summer.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is also a sponsor and has two road courses set up in between the drag racing stadium and the speedway for the behind-the-wheel portions of the program.

Part of the program includes the specially-made beer googles that the teenagers try to drive with, and the parents can put on to try to simulate a drunk driving roadside test.

Walmart also has an 18-wheel truck in the parking lot that allows the teenagers to sit in the rig to see just how many blind spots there are. One of the experienced Walmart truckers talks to each teenager about what the truck driver can and can’t see when he’s on the highway.

It’s an eye-opening experience, and one that is worth it.

As one instructor told the teenagers and their parents, “You may not like them all the time, but you will always love them and this program is something that will carry them throughout their long lives.”

Martin, an experienced state trooper, said he wished that every teenager with a driver’s license in North Carolina could go through the program.

“The skills that they learn here today through the slalom course, and the off road-recovery course is going to be valuable to them,” Martin said. “…We’re so proud that Doug Herbert’s BRAKES program allows the Highway Patrol to come out and participate because this is so important.”

It was a successful family outing, and we all learned something along the way.