SAN MARCOS — For years, living life in the fast lane was everything to Doug Herbert.
It’s apropos: A former drag racing champion, it was Herbert’s job to go fast.
But that all changed in 2008, when Herbert’s 17- and 12-year-old sons, Jon and James, died in a horrific car crash in North Carolina. His eldest son Jon was speeding at the time, Herbert said.
“He was driving fast and recklessly, not anything different than I would have been doing at age 17,” Herbert said. “Because as teens, you think that nothing like this can ever happen to you.”
Since then, Herbert has made it his life’s quest to teach teens the virtues of defensive driving through his nonprofit, B.R.A.K.E.S.
“I wanted to make sure my boys’ lives were going to make a difference,” said Herbert, citing statistics from the Center of Disease Control that show that motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 killer of teenagers age 16 to 19. “If their lives can save another dad from going through this experience, then I have accomplished what I set out to do.”
The organization, whose acronym stands for “Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe,” hosts defensive driving clinics across the country for teenage drivers.
It started with a safe driving class for 50 teenagers in North Carolina in 2008. Today, Herbert estimates that 35,000 teens in more than 30 states have participated in the program since its inception.
“It has turned into something really, really neat, and helped avoid a lot of teenage driving deaths,” Herbert said.
BRAKES formerly operated its San Diego clinic at Qualcomm Stadium, but has permanently moved it to Cal State University San Marcos.
The first clinics at the new location take place Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.
When asked to describe the program, Herbert said that the first thing that people should understand is that it is not a driver’s education class. In fact, all drivers are required to have at least 30 hours of experience behind the wheel to participate.
Teens get behind-the-wheel experience on how to, among other things, avoid a crash, a “panic stop” exercise aimed at teaching them how to employ anti-lock brakes, a “drop wheel” recovery exercise that teaches them how to avoid over-correcting when they drive off of a shoulder, and a skid-avoidance course in a vehicle with special tires that simulate slick driving conditions.
Herbert said there is also a distracted driving course that reinforces in teens the dangers of texting or using other devices while driving.
“I tell them when I am driving my dragster, do you think I am FaceTiming my friends? No,” Herbert said.
The program’s instructors include a collection of former and current law enforcement, race car drivers, first responders and stunt drivers who all undergo background checks and special BRAKES training to learn how to teach teenagers.
“We try to exceed everybody’s expectations,” Herbert said.
Space is limited and seats are filling quickly. Online registration is available at www.putonthebrakes.org.