Wednesday, April 24, 2019

B.R.A.K.E.S. pro-active teen driving school

I now have two licensed teen drivers - Solomon (17) and Isaac (16). Let me tell you, as a parent, I have never prayed for my kids as much as since they started driving. 

We followed the same protocol with both: They get their learner's permit at 15 1/2, then spend the next 6 months being taught how to drive by me, followed by a professional driving school (that even without prior teaching fulfills the AZ learning requirements), and also administers the on the road test required to get their license around the time they turn 16. The driving school is not mandated by law in our state - the law only requires kids pass the theory test administered by the MVD and complete at least 30 hours behind the wheel with a parent instructor - but personally I feel a lot better knowing that a professional driving school is going over everything a second time with them, covering any bases I might have missed. Not to mention they get driving practice and learn how to parallel-park in a normal vehicle and not just my 12-passenger behemoth van - ha!

After they get their license, I continue to have my new drivers get as much practice as possible, making them drive every time we are riding together, with me in the passenger seat providing feedback and instruction. I also don't let them drive by themselves just because they have a license until I am fairly confident in their (obviously limited) abilities. Ideally, kids really should not get behind the wheel by themselves until they have had at least 100 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. Time takes time. Experience and muscle memory take time, and there are no shortcuts for that. The more you can drive with your teen, the better off they will be.

Even so, with all those safeguards in place, that's still ridiculously young and inexperienced to be driving on public roads in our busy city after relatively few hours of guided instruction.

Did you know: 

- Car crashes are the #1 killer of teens ages 15-19.
- 50% of teen drivers crash in the first month of driving. 
- Teens are 400% more likely to die in a car crash than 25-34 year-old drivers.
- Half of all teens will be involved in a car crash before graduating from High School.
- 6 out of 10 teen crashes involve driver distraction. 
- Teen drivers receive the most calls from their parents. 
- Teen driver fatality risk quadruples with multiple young passengers (increases 44% with one passenger, doubles with two passengers, quadruples with three or more passengers).

A couple of years ago, I read in a magazine (Costco? Geico?) about the non-profit organization B.R.A.K.E.S. that offers free pro-active driving courses for teen drivers. Tragically, the founder lost both of his teen sons in a car accident. He turned this tragedy into a stepping stone to help other parents avoid the heartache of losing a young driver by starting BRAKES. Teens who complete BRAKES are approx. 64% less likely to get into a car crash in the first three years.

When I first learned about BRAKES, Solomon did not meet all the requirements to sign up, but I got on their email newsletter to be alerted the next time they came to the Phoenix area.

I was in the middle of frying food for dinner (stressful with little kids in the house who could get underfoot) when the email came that BRAKES was back in town. I stopped what I was doing, turned the stove off, put a big kid in charge of guarding all access to the kitchen, and immediately registered both Solomon and Isaac.

BRAKES offers four sessions on most weekends in different cities, but registration fills up quickly at most locations. Thankfully, I was able to secure a spot for both boys. 

Early one Saturday morning (check-in begins at 7:30 a.m.), I took Solomon and Isaac to the course while my husband held down the fort at home. The first half hour is spent in the classroom going over the basics of the day. The rest of the time (8:30 to noon) the kids are behind the wheel getting real-life practice. The ratio is 3 students per instructor, which is fantastic, and gives the students ample time to practice maneuvers over and over again. By comparison, when these same instructors teach law enforcement these same classes, the ratio is 9 students per instructor.

The parents had another half hour or so of classroom instruction on how to best and most efficiently teach their teen drivers. Then we, too, headed outside to do some of the same exercises the kids were doing, except not nearly as in-depth.

Even after over 20 years of driving experience, I learned a lot myself. I can only imagine how much more the boys benefited. The course covers skid avoidance, crash avoidance/slalom, distraction, panic stops, drop wheel recovery, and car control & recovery.

There were other exhibits on display that day: the Wal-Mart safety team had a semi on site for teens and parents to get into the driver seat and see first-hand how large their blind spots are. U-haul was there with a hands-on exhibit about safe towing and trailer loading (60% of weight in the front half of the trailer). The local police department had "drunk driving goggles" that the kids got to try out while trying to drive down a straight lane.

At no point of the morning was anyone bored, not even during the classroom instruction. While the kids spent most of their time behind the wheel, there were brakes for the parents. The classroom had drinks and snacks set up, all of which were free. The entire class is free. There is a $99 deposit to hold the spot for the class, but if that deposit is paid by check, the check can be picked up at the end of the class.

I do suggest that if you are at all able to, waive that deposit and let BRAKES keep it as a tax-deductible donation. This will help make it possible for them to continue offering these classes, and make them available for free to those who truly could not otherwise afford to attend. 3 out of 4 parents donate their deposit after experiencing the awesome benefits of the class first-hand (as did I). By comparison, the Bondurant driving school right here in Phoenix charges $1,225 for one-day high-performance driving instruction, and does not have the same high success rate.

More than anything, I was touched by meeting Mr. Doug Herbert, the founder who lost his two sons, in person. He is a very humble man, who truly wants to save other teens from the tragedy that forever altered his life.

Every member of his team was outstanding. Having put on many large-scale church events myself, I had a faint idea of how much planning and logistics must go into pulling off four classes with 45 students each in two days. I looked over their schedule for the day - they pretty much work without taking much of a break from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both Saturdays and Sundays, most weekends of the year, and traveling between stops with all their cars and gear the rest of the week. It takes a special person that wants to get into a car with a cocky (or timid teenager), and teach them how to drive responsibly, how to speed toward an obstacle, pedal-to-the-metal and to swerve at the last moment. It's not something I would ever volunteer to do if it weren't for my own kids. I have even told them there are three things I never want to teach the grandkids: potty training, how to read, and how to drive. If I survive teaching those things to my own 10+ kids, I will go into retirement in those areas as grandma. Hopefully.

If you have a young driver in your family, I encourage you to take a look at the class schedule to see if one is offered in your area, and to sign up for the email to be alerted when there is one in the future. I am already looking forward to taking John and my other kids there in the future, Lord willing.

1 comment:

  1. How is the pregnancy going? Do you know what you are having yet?


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