Chapel Hill: Opinion

Lucas Selvidge: Nothing to brag about

Every time I see a major car accident, I hesitate to look at the scene as I go by. Then again, maybe looking is the least we can do, to see the suffering and share it a little bit.

It’s not unlikely that the driver and passengers in the accident were teens. Over 5,000 teens are killed each year in automobile accidents. Two-thirds of this number are the passengers of teen drivers.

A few Saturdays ago, I participated in a program that teaches driving safety called BRAKES It is based in Concord, N.C., and has been held in 17 states around the country. I took the course at the State Highway Patrol training facility in Raleigh.

BRAKES stands for Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe. The program was founded by professional drag racer Doug Herbert, who was the second NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) driver to break 300 miles per hour. His two sons Jon, 17, and James, 12, were killed in an automobile accident in 2008. Herbert wanted to do something so that fewer teens and their families would have to go through what he and his family went through.

Unlike other advanced driving schools that cost $800 to $1,000, BRAKES is free, aside from a $99 refundable deposit that is sent to hold a student’s place. At the end of the course, the check can either be picked up or donated to the program. BRAKES is a nonprofit program and relies on donations and sponsorships.

It is a hands-on driving experience, called the Teen Proactive Driving Course. The goal is to “prevent injuries and save lives by training and educating teenage drivers and their parents about the importance of safe driving.” In practice it hopes to eliminate common driving mistakes through muscle memory training and by “addressing driving situations responsible for many traffic accidents involving teens.” (Quotes are from BRAKES materials.)

The course started with a presentation by a man whose mother-in-law had been killed in a crosswalk by a teenage girl who was texting while driving. He reminded us of basic things like proper seating position, the proper place to hold your hands on the steering wheel in case the air bag comes out (9 and 3 o’clock), and avoiding driving in the blind spots of large trucks.

Then Herbert, the founder, said a few words. He told a story about a girl who had taken the course and afterward was able to avoid an accident due to something she had learned. When Herbert recounted this story to his 15-year-old daughter, Jessie, he told us her response was, “My brothers may have saved her life.”

Many of the people who run this program have had firsthand experience with injury or death as a result of reckless teen driving. I am impressed that they come out and do what they are doing.

Next we participated in several driving obstacle courses, with cars provided by the program. I found the most useful one to be the car control and recovery exercise on the skid pad. When we drove onto this pad, which is meant to simulate icy or wet road conditions, our instructor would make the car skid and we would practice steering into the skid (the direction that the back of the car is sliding).

The other part of this course that I thought was extremely important was the wheel drop-off recovery exercise, when we deliberately steered off of the road and practiced avoiding over-correcting to get back on. This is a common mistake that many teen drivers make, and it unfortunately ends up leading to a lot of teenage fatalities.

Many teens I know brag about how fast they drive on places like Mt. Sinai Road and I-40. One guy claims to have driven 115 mph in a 45 mph zone. I hope that he was exaggerating. A common stereotype is that teens are reckless and not very safe drivers, and sometimes I think that stereotype is true.

Let’s all be safer by putting on the BRAKES.

Lucas Selvidge is a 12th grader at Carolina Friends School.