Tuesday, July 29, 2014

B.R.A.K.E.S. driving school for our girls

As parents of a teen driver, we want them to be safe, courteous and know how to get out of bad situations. Here in Georgia you only need 30 hours of classroom lessons and 6 hours of driving to get your license. Of course you have to pass the test, but that isn't exactly a test of extreme conditions.
Last weekend I took both my daughters, 19 and 16 to B.R.A.K.E.S. driving school at Atlanta Dragway. This class is completely different than the 'check box' 6 hours the regular driving schools provide (to be fair, both girls did the default class to get their licenses and to lower the insurance.)
So what is special about this school? Instead of focusing on the things they need to know and do in normal situations, they expose the students to things going wrong. Such as a panic stop, turning while braking, skidding on rain soaked pavement and distracted driving. 
Our day started with my 16 year-old, who has only had her license 3 weeks, drove us from Kennesaw to Commerce. Yes, 75, to the Cobb Cloverleaf, across 285, over Spaghetti Junction and up 85 for almost an hour. She did great. (for the record she has over 100 hours of driving before she got her license so I knew she'd do well. Her sister has had her license 3 years)
First thing you see when you pull up is the 18 wheeler and several cars parked around it (including a gorgeous 2008 Mustang Bullitt) and a dozen or so Kia cars and 'cubes'. Registration was easy, of course we had to sign away all our rights, but I expected that.
Then we watched and heard the story of why B.R.A.K.E.S. exists. For those who followed NHRA Drag Racing in the 90's you'll recognize Doug Herbert. Second man to go 300 MPH in a Top Fuel Dragster. But also a father who lost two sons in a car accident. 
You can hear Doug tell the story of his loss and how he vowed to do something to help teens be better drivers.
After a few minutes of slides going over what situations they were going to put the kids in, and teach them how to recover from, they separated the kids into groups of 3 and got them out on the track.
While the kids were taking turns on the course, one of the instructors took Deb and I out on the course too. After him showing us what the situations are, we got a chance to drive. While it was fun, it was also pretty eye opening when driving a car we were not familiar with. When the anti-lock brakes fired, I wasn't expecting it, nor does the little Kia handle like my Mustang (or Deb's Odyssey!)
So here is a breakdown of the situations
First we accelerated as fast as possible for about 50 yards, then the instructor yelled 'left' or 'right' and you had to lock up the brakes and STEER around a cardboard cutout of a skateboarder.
Next we did a slalom around some cones, again as quick as possible to understand the weight transfer and how it feels to have the car move from side to side.
Next we did an 'offroad' exercise where we deliberately dropped the right wheels off the road and how to recover.
Next up was an avoidance exercise. Again we drove as fast as possible and at the last second the instructor said 'left' or 'right' and you were supposed to go around an obstacle and recover without stopping.
Then another slalom, but this one at a much higher speed so you could learn how to recover from over and understeer.
The last two the parents didn't get to do. First was a skid pad. They had a pumper truck dumping water on the road, then again the students went as fast as possible, the instructor said 'left' or 'right' THEN PULLED THE EMERGENCY BRAKE. Full slides, skids, the car rocking side to side the whole experience of losing control. They wouldn't let the parents do this since this situation chews up tires very fast. One of the guys later told me they go through a set of tires every weekend due to the skid pad.
The final course was the distracted driving. They setup several cones, a slalom, obstacles etc. then asked the kids to try to text. While playing with the radio, the sun visions, talking to them etc. Everything you'd expect in a car full of teens. Not one didn't hit something or totally lose track of where they were. Both girls told us it was a shock how quickly they were distracted.
For the next 3 hours the kids cycled through the different situations. Each getting several (4+) turns on each. There was at least one other kid in the car with them, and they rotated driving.
The instructors turned out to be a very interesting bunch. One guy does driver safety training for U.P.S. he, and all the others, are either professional drivers, or professional driving instructors. All very patient, very willing to explain to the kids and very knowledgeable. Just take a look at their bios: http://www.putonthebrakes.com/driving-schools/instructors/
Every kid we saw after they were done, mine included, were excited and scared by what they learned. Several of the kids, mine included, didn't want to be there when we started the afternoon and I didn't see anyone who didn't look like they learned something. I know I did.
B.R.A.K.E.S. is based out of Concord, NC but have schools in GA, NC, SC and Pomona CA. While I was there they were talking about courses in Florida, Alaska and other parts of California. 

The website is here: http://www.putonthebrakes.com/
The cost? Technically free, but you need to put down $99 to hold the spot, with a check. You can get it back at the end, but I didn't see anyone going to where the they had the checks, so basically you made a donation to them. For me $198 was nothing compared to what my girls learned.
Remember the truck I mentioned at the beginning? It was there for the kids (and parents) to climb up into and see how little a truck driver can actually see. From the driver's seat you couldn't see the Bullitt parked in front or the cars parked on either side. When both my girls were in the seat I went and stood directly in front and they couldn't see me until I put my hand above my head.
I strongly recommend you take your teen to this course. If they don't come to your area, see if you can get them to!
While we were waiting for the kids to do their exercises I started talking with Matt Reilly, who is the Director. We talked about a lot of things (including Marketing Automation software, since they are working hard on their marketing this fall) and how great it was to have Kia involved as a sponsor.
He told me they are struggling to get the word out about their school and to get corporate sponsors. (They could easily have had 6 more kids in our session, they had the cars and the instructors). So if you know someone in a corporation who would be a good sponsor (UPS, Coca Cola, Firestone, hint hint) please point them to the website or contact Matt directly to get the conversation going. It sounds like if they had the sponsorship they could bring the program to a lot more places.