Last month I took Billy and his friend to the BRAKES teen driving class. BRAKES stands for Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe. It is a free, pro-active defensive driving program. It is geared for teens ages 15-19 who have a learners or drivers license and at least 30 hours driving experience. It is a 4 hour course, and it is worth the time! I felt like the kids learned a lot from it, and got to try out some things they wouldn't normally get to do.
This is not your typical driving school! This class aims to improve the teen's skills and confidence. First we met in a room and they showed the kids some safety videos and talked about safe driving practices. One of the things they taught us was how to adjust your side mirrors. They said everyone has always been taught to adjust their mirrors so that they can see the side of their car in them. But this creates blind spots. He said you should lean over to the side the mirror is on, then you adjust the mirror out and stop when you just cant see the side of your car anymore. This way you don't have any blind spots. You can see everything either in your rear view mirror, or when they move out of the view of it they will pop up in the side mirrors. I have started using my mirror like this, and I must admit it takes some getting used to. it's weird not seeing the side of your car. The instructor made jokes about it. He said "I promise you it's still there! The side of your car isn't going anywhere! You don't have to look at it!"
Another safety issue is the practice of "hooking". He said women are more likely to do this because they saw their mothers and grandmothers doing this growing up. Hooking is where you turn your arm around and stick it through the steering wheel to grab the top of the wheel and turn. This is dangerous since most cars have airbags nowdays. If the airbag comes out while you have your hand like this it will break your wrist and elbow. If you are caught driving like this by the instructor you are branded a "hooker". I got caught doing this within 30 seconds of being in the drivers seat. I have really tried to stop , though I still catch myself doing it sometimes.
After the videos and short talk the teens were split into 4 groups and they went outside to start the driving part. We adults had another short talk about the importance of letting the kids drive and practice, and getting in lots of instruction time. It's crazy to think kids have hundreds of hours of instruction in playing sports, but then they only get 30 or 40 hours of instruction driving and are given a license! We went outside to watch the kids and drive. The adults got to participate in 2 of the activities the teens did. There were 4 hands on courses at the one we went to at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Accident Avoidance/Slalom- In this course you are driving down a single lane. The lane then splits into 3 lanes. There are lights above each lane. One light will turn green and the other two red. You have to swerve into the lane with the green light without stomping the brakes. They said if you hit the brakes it makes the car harder to control. Then there are a bunch of cones you weave through to make your way back to the start. The parents got to try this one. I did it right on my first try!
Panic Stop- In this one you are driving full speed down a lane towards a cut out cardboard of a kid. When the instructor says Now! you are to lock down the brakes and turn the wheel to avoid the kid. It gives the kids a chance to feel what the brakes feel like locked down, and it shows them that you can steer when the brakes are locked down. I had problems with this one. I was nervous driving towards a kid, even if it was a cardboard cut out. The first time I didn't hit the brakes hard enough to lock them down. The instructor said I babied them. He made me do it again. The second time I did better and locked them down, but forgot to turn the wheel and steer around the kid. At least I didn't hit him!
Skid Recovery- This one was really cool! They have these bald tires that they put on over the regular tires. With the bald tires they have no traction, so when they turn they skid. The instructors taught them how to turn into the skid, and then when they felt the tires grip recover it and turn back the other way. The parents didn't get to do this one, because the tires are very expensive and they said sometimes they can wear out a set in just one day! I did go watch for a while. Most of the kids completely spun out and would go in circles. It made me dizzy watching them! Here's a close up of the bald tires.
Distraction- In this one the kids get to wear "drunk goggles". They put these goggles on and it makes everything look distorted. They have to drive through an obstacle course wearing the goggles while the instructor blares the radio, talks loud, and takes selfies with the driver. This one was hilarious to watch. The kids were creeping around the course so slowly, running over cones and going outside the lanes.
When the parents aren't taking turns driving, there is a covered area where you can sit and watch. They also provide drinks and snacks. One of the instructors drives the parents around the courses in a large 8 passenger van so you can get an upclose look at what the teens are doing.
After the driving part is over everyone goes back inside and the kids get a certificate. Some insurance companies will give you a discount if you send them a copy of the certificate. The event is sponsored by Kia, so of course we had to get a pic with the Kia Hamsters!
Billy and his friend both really liked the course and said they wanted to do it again. The highlight of the course for Billy was that his instructor was Jerry Nadeau, a former Nascar driver! He got into an accident during a race years ago and suffered a brain injury. He can't race anymore, so now he volunteers his time with BRAKES. Billy was thrilled to meet a real Nascar driver!
If you want more information about the BRAKES class you can check out their website here. They have a schedule so you can see if they are coming to your area. The class is free, but you do have to send in a $100 deposit. The day of the class you can get your deposit back, or you can choose to donate it. BRAKES is a non profit and runs off of donations, so every little bit helps!