Drag racing champion Doug Herbert has cruised past 300 mph on the track and has received accolades for his prowess as a driver. But none of that prepared him for the call he received telling him that his two sons had been killed in an auto accident involving a high rate of speed.
Car crashes remain a leading cause of death for teens. In 2016, more than 49,100 teens ages 15-19 experienced crashes in Ohio, resulting in nearly 14,000 injuries and 127 teen deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
For Herbert, 49, those stats were a reality in January 2008 when his two sons — Jon, 17, and James, 12 — died instantly around 10 a.m. on a four-lane road in Cornelius, N.C.
According to police reports, Jon was driving at a high rate of speed and tried to pass another vehicle but then lost control of his car and was struck by a Hummer.
“I didn’t know when my boys were in the crash that car crashes are the number one thing that kills teenagers,” Herbert told the Journal-News.
Following the tragedy, he wanted to do something to help others from experiencing his horror and started BRAKES — “Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe” — which has evolved into a large non-profit charity that teaches safe driving skills to teens around the country.
“The initial goal was to teach my sons’ friends about being safer and more responsible drivers,” Herbert said. “Over the last nine years we have taught over 30,000 teenagers from 43 states around the country.”
BRAKES will makes its first ever stop in Butler County this month.
“We are excited to bring the program to the area and we hope to make it an annual thing,” Herbert said. “What we are not is driver’s education. We require teenagers to actually have a learner’s permit or a valid driver’s license and at least 30 hours of behind-the-wheel driving experience before they come to our class because what we are going to teach them is life-saving skills. Skills that will likely keep them out of an accident.”
He added, “we are going to teach them to deal with emergency situations that they will likely run into on the road at one point or another. Instead of panicking and not knowing what to do, we are going to teach them how to deal with that.”
BRAKES has received numerous federal safety grants and corporate sponsorships from companies like KIA, who is providing vehicles for the event, according to Herbert.
Parents can also participate and receive some up-to-date training behind the wheel.
“The teens and their parents learning together is a good thing,” Herbert said.
But for Herbert, the bottom line is to make sure that safe, effective driving skill are taught to teen so that their parents don’t ever have to experience what he went through.
“I want to make sure parents don’t get the phone call that I got saying your kids aren’t coming home,” Herbert said.
HOW TO GO
WHAT: The national teen defensive driving program B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe)
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 21 and 22
WHERE: Manheim Auto Auction, 4939 Muhlhauser Road, West Chester Twp.
COST: Free, but registration is required. Register online at www.putonthebrakes.org