School is not in session yet, but here is a class parents may want their teen drivers to take. After all, who would not want lessons from instructors who have trained the drivers who chauffeur the president of the United States and perform stunts seen in such movies as “Fast and Furious”?
The four-hour class is no joy ride. It’s an intense hands-on course put on by former National Hot Rod Association champion racer Doug Herbert to teach novice drivers responsible and defensive driving and stop bad habits before they take root.
Called B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe), the course coming to the Manheim Auto Auction in Maple Grove on Aug. 26-27 grew from a preventable crash that killed Herbert’s two sons, John, 17, and James, 13. Nine years ago John was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic when he lost control, struck another vehicle and slammed into a tree on the side of a road just a mile from the family’s home in Charlotte, N.C. Both boys died at the scene.
The grief was palpable, Herbert said, but he wanted to warn his son’s friends and their parents that car crashes — often preventable — are the leading cause of death among people ages 16-20, killing six teens a day, or more than 5,600 teens each year, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Herbert wanted to do something about it and started the program.
“It was some therapy for me, but I wanted to help other parents not to have to experience the same loss I did with my boys,” Herbert said. “If you are driving down the road and are focused, you are ahead of 90 percent of other people on the road not focused on driving their cars.”
Safe driving starts with proper seat and hand position with eyes on the road, said instructor Matt Reilly, who has trained some of the biggest names in auto racing, including Dale Earnhardt Sr., Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon. The class will cover distracted driving, panic braking, accident avoidance, recovery and skid control.
Overcorrection is a big factor in crashes as many drivers instinctively tap the brake and yank the wheel when their vehicle goes off the road. The drop-wheel recovery course will show drivers how to avoid those errors and gently guide the vehicle back onto the road. “The car will go where you are looking, so look for the path of least resistance,” Reilly said.
In another exercise, drivers heading down a slalom course will have to make a split-second lane change without losing control, simulating evasive action should an object suddenly appear in their lane. On the distraction course, drivers reading a text message will see how much distance they cover in just five seconds, about the amount of time it takes to figure out who’s calling or texting. That is enough time to kill or injure somebody, as happened a few weeks ago in East Bethel when a teen was checking a message and hit a road construction worker.
On the skid pad, participants get to drive cars outfitted with plastic-coated tires. The “adult version of a plastic Big Wheel,” as Reilly called them, are used to show drivers how to properly avoid and recover from oversteer (rear wheel) and understeer (front wheel) skids on wet and icy roads.
Classes require a $99 refundable deposit when registering.
“A lot of kids just had to pass a simple test to get a driver’s license, but they don’t know how to control a car,” Reilly said. “The car is a machine, and you tell it what to do. We want to give kids a better start to their driving career.”
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