Grief Stricken Dad Aims To Raise Awareness for Teen Driver Safety

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Teenage girl texting on cell phone while drivingEvery year in the United States thousands of families mourn the loss of their teen-aged drivers. Earlier this month more California families were affected, as a fiery crash in Irvine took five young lives. This serves as a reminder to Doug Herbert that car crashes continue to be the number one killer of Americans between the ages of 13 and 19. Doug Herbert is a former drag racer who lost two sons in 2008 when his 17-year-old took his little brother for a quick trip to McDonalds.  Herbert is aware that teenaged drivers pose a special risk, and attributes the cause of his children’s death to his own son driving too fast and recklessly. After losing his two sons, Herbert started a program aimed at teen driver safety. B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) is a free four hour class that is being held at the Orange County Great Park over this weekend. Since starting the program, Herbert has had over 12,000 teenagers and their parents participate. Herbert relies on teaching teenagers how to maintain control through accident avoidance exercises. This type of defensive driving course helps kids learn how to react properly in sudden driving situations that adults are accustomed to. He teaches steering and braking techniques as well as the importance of staying focused on driving, and not allowing yourself to be distracted.

Distracted Driving Epidemic

Distracted driving among teens has reached epidemic proportions in the United States since cell phones and text messages became popular. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute estimates that a teen increases their risk of crashing 23 times if they are texting while driving. Also disturbing are the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) findings that teenagers are 2 and 1/2 times more inclined to speed or partake in other risky driving behaviors when they are travelling with a peer, and 3 times more likely to drive this way when they have a number of peers riding with them as passengers. This is eerily reminiscent of the Irvine tragedy, where the one vehicle that was involved was being driven by a 16-year-old boy, transporting five of his friends back from Knott’s Scary Farm. The cause of the accident is still unknown, but the California Highway Patrol does believe that high speed was a factor. The driver was not licensed, and at least three of his five passengers were not wearing a seat belt at the time that the BMW veered off of the highway and onto an embankment.

Teen Driver Safety Courses

It is commendable of Doug Herbert to take advantage of this refocus on teenaged driving issues and offer free classes now, while the issue is plaguing many California parent’s minds. Major car manufacturers are also offering teen driver safety programs in Southern California. BMW has announced it will be initiating a Teen School at its Performance Center West at the Thermal Club near Palm Springs. Starting late in November one and two day classes will be made available to teen drivers designed to make them react better in unpredictable conditions. What makes this an exciting option for teens is that most of the programs are going to be run by race car drivers. The executive vice president of operations for BMW of North America, Peter Miles, says that the program is focused on teaching teen drivers reactionary habits to help them respond responsibly to those situations that cannot be predicted. This includes teaching to look well ahead of your vehicle, quick steering maneuvers, hard braking and of course paying full attention to the road. Since 1999 BMW has been operating a similar Teen School at its Performance Center in South Carolina. Once the teenagers have completed the program they are given a certificate. Some local insurance companies are recognizing the importance of this certificate and offering lower premiums to teenagers who possess one. The Orange County Teen School will be conducted on a closed driving course and include exercises that show the direct impact of distracted driving. Students will learn what can happen if they remove their eyes from the road for just two seconds. Dates and prices are yet to be announced, but are expected to be made public during November’s L.A. Auto Show. The Automobile Club of Los Angeles and Mercedes-Benz have been offering teen driving schools in California for a number of years. The Auto Club has even gone so far as to offer parents plug in GPS that lets them know when their teen driver has exceeded speed limits, curfew or boundaries while Mercedes-Benz has a comprehensive driving class set up in Los Angeles just for teenaged drivers. As parents like Doug Herbert will tell you, coping with the aftermath of a car crash involving your teenager is devastating. It needs to be recognized that driving is an acquired skill that takes most people years to hone. In the meantime, kids are being given the keys to fast cars without being properly educated on how driving defensively as opposed to offensively will save their life, and that of any passengers riding with them.

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