Lake Norman & Mooresville

'They get you going fast'

What does 16-year-old Mooresville resident Anna Boug, a newly licensed driver, fear most?

Now that she has completed a course called BRAKES Driving School - an acronym for "Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe" - Anna has more confidence in her ability to drive.

But she worries about other drivers more than she did before.

"When you're driving, you just become more aware of everything," said Anna, who lives in The Point neighborhood with her family. "In the morning, when I am driving to school, everyone is speeding around me. It's really annoying, because the parents drive faster than the kids.

" ... I'm going 45 (the speed limit), and I see a car barreling up behind me, and I look, thinking it's someone from school. When I look, it's a parent talking on a cell phone.

"I know I'm not experienced, but ... most of the people speeding are the parents."

Anna's mother, Patti Boug, heard about the BRAKES program from neighbors and signed Anna up months before Anna earned her learner's permit.

Anna - one of about 50 teens attending that day - didn't know she was taking the course in Concord until the day before it started.

"I don't think I even knew what it was," Anna said.

The driving school is geared toward kids ages 15-19 teenagers who have received their learner's permit or driver's license and have some hours behind the wheel.

Founded in 2008 by drag racer Doug Herbert after his two sons, Jon and James, were killed in an auto accident, BRAKES is a nonprofit organization that teaches young drivers how to handle dangerous driving situations.

The students experience lessons by actually handling such events: distractions, skidding, panic stopping, emergency lane changing, driving behind a truck and reacting if something falls off a truck in front of them.

"They get them in the car and make them do it over and over," Patti Boug said, "They get you going fast, squealing tires, real life - not a fake situation."

The instructors begin the course by saying, "Most of you, your parents dragged you here," Patti said. "The instructors are so good, they engage the kids. Some of them are silly. It's all volunteer. Most of the instructors are involved in racing - men and women."

Anna, in a car with two other students and the instructor, described the first few minutes of the four-hour course: "I knew one of the girls assigned to my group. I wasn't the first one driving, so I was in the back seat with the one girl I knew; we held hands.

"When the first driver drove, she had to hydroplane, and I closed my eyes. They spray water; you have to drive fast, and the instructor tells you what to do so you can experience the hydroplane.

"Once you drive, it's not that bad at all, but when someone else is driving, it's really nerve-wracking because you don't know how they drive.

"I had to do a skid, hydroplane. I was nervous, but I was in control of the car."

During the lesson on distracted driving, cones are set up to appear as if you are driving through a neighborhood. For this lesson, the instructor's young daughter (about 7 years old) was in the back seat.

"The instructor gave me his phone and had me try to text," Anna said. He kept yelling at me, talking in an Irish accent, saying things that had nothing to do with what I was doing. But you have to be careful not to hit the cones.

"The instructor's young daughter kept reaching over and unbuckling my seatbelt. I kept buckling it back. The cell phone in my hand was playing 'Angry Birds,' and they keep on laughing, but you can be so annoyed."

In a more serious tone, Anna added, "You cannot multitask while you are driving."

Parents are also invited to participate in another car to see what their children are experiencing. Parents can drive, too.

At the end of the session, Patti Boug said, "Everyone was excited and engaged. They could do it serious, because it is serious. But the personalities of the instructors, although professional, made it in the way that the kids wanted to be there."

BRAKES Driving School is branching out to other states and hopes to become a national program. It is already offered in Texas and Arizona and soon will be in Pennsylvania. The registration fee is refundable at the end of the course, or you can donate it to the program.

There is a waiting list for the course.