Hint: It kills more young people every day than cancer, suicide or murder.
Answer: Car crashes.
Every year, thousands of teens die in car crashes and hundreds of thousands more are taken to the hospital with serious injuries. This statistic became a reality for me in January of 2008 when my two boys, Jon and James, ages 17 and 12, were killed in a car crash. One bad decision led to the death of my beautiful boys and brought to light for me a major epidemic in our country. I learned that car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers, and it was obvious to me that something had to be done. This realization was the impetus behind our creation of B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe).
In that first year, with the help of other racers, we created an advanced driver training program to prepare my son Jon’s friends for the kinds of situations drivers face every day – skidding on an off-ramp, panic braking, emergency lane changes, etc. – scenarios that are often deadly for new drivers due to lack of experience. Jon’s classmates came up with the acronym B.R.A.K.E.S., and a mission was born.
|Doug with his children, Jon, James|
and Jessie, at Christmas in 2007.
Nine years later, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained more than 25,000 teens from 43 different states and five countries. When you add in their parents, who are required to attend the training alongside their teen, that’s nearly 50,000 safer drivers on the road. This year, B.R.A.K.E.S. will host more than 40 weekend schools, visiting more than 20 different cities.
Often teens arrive for training somewhat surly, a bit resentful that their weekend time has been committed to what they think is going to be some sort of “Driver’s Ed school-thing.” Many have already been driving for months or even longer, and they think there’s nothing more to learn. But usually a little more than an hour later, the students are fully engaged, intently listening to their instructors and nervously laughing when it’s their turn to get behind the wheel and try something they’ve never done before. By the end of the four-hour session, graduation certificate in hand, the students are usually all smiles, and on the walk back to the car, many hugs are exchanged between parent and teen as both share a genuine moment of connection and common experience.
Evidence of B.R.A.K.E.S.’ efficacy goes beyond anecdotes, however. A study conducted by University of North Carolina, Charlotte, Professor Emeritus Dr. Paul Friday, compared driving records from five years’ worth of B.R.A.K.E.S. graduates with non-graduate peers, and the results were staggering: Teens without the B.R.A.K.E.S. training were more than twice as likely to experience a crash in the first three years of driving. Said another way, B.R.A.K.E.S. training reduced the likelihood of a crash by 64 percent – which is incredible when you consider that statistics show half of all teenagers will experience a crash before they graduate from high school.
Doug Herbert is a legend in the drag racing world and has won 10 NHRA National Event Championships, 20 IHRA National Event Championships and four Top Fuel World Championships.