Most of us, as teenagers, take driver’s ed where we learn the basic rules of the road, how to park, apply the gas and brake pedals and drive in reasonable conditions.

But there are the more serious aspects of driving, such as navigating over icy roads, having to swerve to miss debris in the road, what to do if a wheel drops off the shoulder to name a few scenarios. Too many teens have to learn to drive in these conditions when they encounter them and in extreme cases, that can mean injury or death.

A national teen defensive driving program, BRAKES (Be responsible and keep everyone safe) provides training, within a controlled environment, for teens to learn how to drive in panic situations. Over the past 10 years, BRAKES has educated 35,000 kids across the country and for the first time, it will be offered within this region. The training will be offered July 27 and 28 at Wichita State University.

Taking place at WSU’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex, the program will run from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Teens can register for the free classes at: program is free, but a $99 refundable deposit is required to secure a place in the classes. Up to 45 teens between ages 15 and 19 can enroll in the classes, making room for 180 students all together.

“We’re the advanced level,” Matt Riley, director of operations for BRAKES said. “We would be more like your college level of driving. We’re a car control school. We’re gonna push the teens in a controlled environment and see how they react behind the wheel to emergency panic type situations.”

A professor from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, found that young people who had been through the training were 64 percent less likely to be in a car crash. Some insurance companies offer benefits for insuring teens who have been through BRAKES training.

Repetition is used in the defensive driving training. “Our driving school is like batting practice where they get a chance to perfect the new techniques and skills over and over and over,” Riley said. 

Unfortunately, the first time most young drivers learn how to deal with a skid is when they’re right in the middle of it on the roadway or interstate. 

“That’s too late,” Riley said. “We have to give them some practice before they get out there.” 

Many times, a wheel might go off the road and a teen will jerk the wheel and emerge out to oncoming traffic, run off the road or overturn the car -- all of which, could result in a fatality.

“Probably the single worst experience a parent will ever have to go through is receiving a phone call or knock on the door that their teen’s been killed,” Riley said.

 For Doug Herbert, the man who started BRAKES, that experience was a tragic reality.

A horrible phone call

In January, 2008, Herbert, a professional drag racer, was at a race in Phoenix when he got a tearful call from his ex-wife, Sonnie Herbert, saying their sons -- Jon, 17, and James, 12 -- had been in a vehicle accident and were probably dead. Doug Herbert took a plane to Charlotte, North Carolina and upon arriving home, learned his sons had been killed.The crash took place near the family’s home in Cornelius, North Carolina where the boys were en route to McDonald’s to get breakfast. Jon, who was driving with James as a passenger, kept swerving in and out of lanes. A police crash investigation found he was driving 80 in a 45 mph zone, lost control and slammed into an SUV. Both boys were killed instantly.

In a video on the BRAKES website, Herbert said,”The only thing I can do is try to do something to help kids drive safe because I don’t want other kids and their friends to go through this.”

Riley said, “Out of that misery you have two choices in life. You can get sucked up by it & get into  vacuum and never recover or spring into action & that’s what he did.”

The ultimate goal of BRAKES defensive driving training, Riley said, “is that each one of our graduates are able to see their homecomings, their proms, graduations, go on in life, do great things and outlive their parents. The bottom line is we want these teens drivers to get home safely every time they grab a set of car keys.”