So what are the teens doing outside? Depending on the location of the school, there are different driving courses. For example, if the course is in the permanent school in Charlotte, North Carolina (home to B.R.A.K.E.S.), one of the driving experiences is learning how to recover after dropping a wheel off the road. Herbert says this is the number one cause of teen deaths there, because so many of the roads have drop offs, and once a wheel falls off the pavement, almost everyone over corrects and goes across the highway and hits something head on. That campus has an area carved out where the teens are instructed to not only go in the ditch, but also learn how to steer out of it safely and get back on the highway.
In Los Angeles, though, the bigger concerns are merging into traffic, evasive lane-change maneuvers, and distracted driving, which is a hot topic right now. One of the courses we experienced was about driving distracted. The teen driver starts by trying to concentrate on driving in a coned tight course with the radio set at a high level, as well as other distractions provided by the instructor. The driver also has to back up into a tight space. While this might not seem like a distraction, most of the teens we interviewed said that their crash involved backing into another car or something in a parking lot.
The second course was a panic stop, where the driver accelerates at full speed toward a cardboard cutout and then the instructor tells them to steer left or right while braking at the same time. This is to show the teens that ABS was designed to do the hard work of keeping the wheels from locking up during a panic brake stop. Few of the teens had ever experienced ABS, and this was a great opportunity to help them understand what current automotive technology can do. This was also a small testament to the Kia vehicles that took an amazing amount of abuse through repeated hard braking and steering maneuvers. Most of the teens did a good job, and really understood what to do in an emergency situation.
Another course also helped the kids understand a car’s capabilities and limitations. The accident avoidance and slalom course consists of two parts. First it that forces a driver to make a split-second reaction to negotiate a quick, evasive lane change without losing control, and without braking. This is designed to simulate something happening unexpectedly in front of the vehicle, such as an animal jumping in front or a box falling off a truck . The second part helps them move through a slalom while learning how weight transfer affects what the vehicle will do at that time. They also concentrate on hand positioning and eye scanning.
The last course might be the most fun for the teens, but gets the biggest point across. It’s the skidpad course that utilizes either a wet surface or steel-banded tires to show how quickly a skid happens. The kids are taught how to recover from the skid, whether it’s the front or back end that gets loose.
As the kids went through the course, so did the parents. Sad to say, the kids did a better job of maneuvering through the accident avoidance course, with one more than one parent taking hitting the cardboard cutout.
When all the driving courses were done, because we were in Los Angeles, the participants were treated to a unique demonstration. Kia was kind enough to donate a brand new, $65,000 Kia K900, its top luxury automobile so a crew of first responders could show what happens when the airbags deploy and they need to do an extraction using hydraulic tools. This was a good learning experience both for the students and the response team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which had yet to perform this on the new K900.
It was a fascinating demonstration, especially the deployment of the SRS. They deployed the seatbelt pretensioner explosive, then the side seat airbags, the frontal airbag, and the side curtain bag. They did the deployment on the passenger side for the morning session and the driver’s side for the afternoon class. The sound of the explosives and the smell and smoke from the airbags was eye opening. They talked about the golden hour, and how if you can get to the trauma center within the first 60 minutes of the crash, you have a good chance of survival. To get the doors off and the hypothetical victim out of the vehicle took a little over 10 minutes, which can really cut into the transportation time to the emergency room.
Most of the time was because the K900 is such a well-built vehicle, it took a while to cut up the body panels. This was a unique situation because in a real crash, the vehicle would have been damaged, whereas this car was intact. Another Kia feather in its cap was when the narrator said that the fire chief bought a new Kia for his teen because he has experienced how safe the vehicles are. Makes us feel good about driving our long-term Kia Sedona.
After the demonstration, the participants are asked to fill out a survey, and were given a goodie bag and a certificate of completion. The survey covered questions for both the parents and the students to comment. We perused a stack of them and read nothing but compliments and high marks.
Is it possible for someone to become a great driver after four hours in class? No. But it is possible to make kids aware that vehicles must be respected and driven with full attention. How to recover from a skid, how to brake and steer at the same time, and how distracted driving can change your life in a blink are all vital lessons that it’s better to learn on a closed course than on the real highways of life. We think the B.R.A.K.E.S. class is one of the most important things you can share with your child. Especially if you want to make sure they arrive home safely night after night.
For more information about the B.R.A.K.E.S school, visit putonthebrakes.org, or call 704-720-3806.
Photography © Team Killeen