Former drag racer brings free, life-saving driving class for teens to Wichita

BRAKES teaches defensive driving skills to teenagers across the country. Founder Doug Herbert lost his two sons in a car accident in 2008. (Photo Courtesy of Brakes)
BRAKES teaches defensive driving skills to teenagers across the country. Founder Doug Herbert lost his two sons in a car accident in 2008. (Photo Courtesy of Brakes) Courtesy Photo from BRAKES

In early 2008, Doug Herbert was at a drag-racing event in Phoenix, when he got a call from his ex-wife informing him that their two sons had just been in a car accident less than a mile from their home. A few minutes later, he was notified that his sons Jon and James were both killed on impact.

The brothers had been on their way to McDonald’s for breakfast. It was Jon’s reckless driving that caused the fatal crash.

“As a drag-racer, it didn’t make any sense to me that my sons were killed in a car crash,” Herbert said.

But in the wake of the tragedy of losing his two sons, Herbert decided he wanted to teach a safe driving class for their friends. By the end of 2008, about 50 teenagers his sons knew went through what would become the BRAKES. The program, Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe, was named by his children’s classmates.

“It was like therapy for me,” Herbert said. “I made up my mind that I was going to teach a safe driving class for their friends.”

After those first few sessions, Herbert thought he was done teaching BRAKES, but some parents began writing letters and sending him emails asking him to continue offering the program.

“I want to make sure another parent doesn’t get that phone call that I did that their kid isn’t coming home,” Herbert said. “Hopefully the loss of them is helping another parent and another family not get that phone call.”

Now, 10 years later, the traveling program has trained about 45,000 teenagers in skills that aren’t taught in a driver’s education course, Jeff Perlman, director of public relations for BRAKES, said. For the first time, the BRAKES program will be offered in Wichita later this summer.

“BRAKES is not a driver’s ed,” Herbert said. “We are not teaching them how to parallel park.”

In fact, teenagers enrolled in the course are expected to have at least 30 hours of driving because the course isn’t about teaching “basic driving skills,” Herbert said, it’s about teaching the vital tips and danger avoidance skills that are necessary for being a safe driver.

Every session is about four hours long, but only 30 minutes of that time is spent in a classroom-setting. The remaining time, Herbert said, is spent behind the wheel with an instructor. In the vehicles, teenagers learn skills like skid recovery, crash avoidance, emergency braking and off-road recovery, which Herbert said is the most common kind of traffic accident for teenagers in rural areas.

“All these things that really parents aren’t equipped to teach teenagers (is taught) in a controlled environment with a trained instructor,” Herbert said.

The class is for teenagers ages 15 to 19. In addition to having a learners permit or driver’s license, teenagers are required to attend with a parent who will go through a separate instructor-led program. One of the most important elements to preventing accidents, Herbert said, is to get parents involved.

“We are teaching the parents how to be a better coach,” Herbert said.

Chad Crittenden, public resource officer with Kansas Highway Patrol, said it’s important to keep parents in the mix because it also prepares them to be safer drivers.

“I would say the biggest role model is going to be a parent,” Crittenden said. “Just because an adult has been driving for 20 to 30 years doesn’t make them a great driver.”

BRAKES will be in Wichita on July 27 and July 28. Each day, sessions will be offered from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Registration is required and parents will be expected to put down a $99 spot-holder deposit that can be refunded. Teens and parents will attend one four-hour session.

“When they are done with the class, they are given the opportunity to donate the money or be refunded,” Perlman said.

Most parents, Perlman said, decide to donate the deposit to the program.

“What price can you put on saving lives and making the roadways safer?” Perlman said.

For more information about the program visit their website at www.putonthebrakes.org/. For questions about registration, email register@putonthebrakes.org.