Oct. 22--WEST CHESTER TWP -- A drag racing champion's personal tragedy has inspired an effort to put the BRAKES on teen crashes by teaching defensive driving to young drivers and their parents.
Two group of teens and parents participated in the Cincinnati area's first BRAKES (Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe) courses held Saturday. They will be held again from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Manheim Auto Auction in West Chester Twp. Pre-registration is required at PutOnTheBRAKES.org.
This is not your typical drivers education course. Doug Herbert, the North Carolina drag racer who created the course, hopes to prevent parents from going through the grief he went through after his two sons died in an auto crash involving a high rate of speed.
Car crashes remain a leading cause of death for teens. In 2016, more than 49,100 ages 15 to 19 experienced crashes in Ohio, resulting in nearly 14,000 injuries and 127 teen deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
Matt Reilly, director of operations for BRAKES, said the national nonprofit organization has taught more than 30,000 teens and their parents from 43 states over the past nine years. He said the free four-hour course is unique because the teens and their parents get hands-on training behind the wheel and learn how to avoid getting into a crash in a controlled situation.
"Kids think it's drivers ed until they get here," Reilly said.
BRAKES has received numerous federal safety grants and corporate sponsorships from companies including KIA, which is providing vehicles for the event, Reilly said.
The course is taught by experts -- professional racing drivers, trainers, law enforcement officers and stunt drivers. They teach the teens and parents how to control their vehicle if it hits a patch of ice or hydroplanes on wet roads and how to recover without over-correcting and getting into a crash. Other skills are how to safely merge in traffic, panic braking and understanding the ABS braking system or if they drop a wheel off the pavement. They also hear from a semi-truck driver who shows them the "no zones" when driving around a semi and the importance of safe distances so the truck driver can see their vehicle.
To drive that point home, Jason Imhoff, a Grove City-based truck driver for Walmart, has various KIA-sponsored vehicles parked in the "no zones" around the truck. He also has them climb up into the semi cab to get the perspective from the truck driver who is watching out for the cars around him.
"We want them to start out with good habits," he said. "Just put the phone down and drive."
Another aspect of the course was having John Leas, a retired San Diego police officer, explain the importance of moving right for emergency vehicles or if they get pulled over for a traffic violation.
The course also included a pledge between teens and their parents to come help them if they run into trouble. He also encouraged parents to let their teen drive them home after the course so they can continue to "practice, practice, practice."
After sitting in the cab of the semi, Matthew Losekamp of Loveland said the semi was different than he thought.
"I learned how easy it is to lose control of cars and how to be a safer driver," he said.
His mother, Sarah, said she learned how important it is to look out to the horizon and not look down while driving. She learned to use her peripheral vision more instead of looking left.
"It was very good," she said. "I need to practice it."
"I'm more prepared," said Maddie Kalafut, a Madiera High School junior. She said the program really taught her how to avoid hitting a deer or spinning out on icy or wet roads.
Her father, Chris, said the course was "excellent" because it reinforces these skills to kids.
"It's good to take a refresher course and get hands-on training and how important it is to be a safe driver," he said.
HOW TO GO
WHAT: The national teen defensive driving program B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe)
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Manheim Auto Auction, 4939 Muhlhauser Road, West Chester Twp.
COST: Free, but registration is required. Seats are still available. Register online at www.putonthebrakes.org
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