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BRAKES defensive driving program teaches teens how to be safe behind the wheel

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MANHEIM, Pa. -- With prom and graduation season coming up, a defensive driving program is teaching teens how to be safe on the roads in Lancaster County and across the country.

The program, Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe, or BRAKES, started in 2008 after a drag racing champion lost his two sons in a car crash, and he wanted to help young drivers.

Matt Reilly, the director of operations at BRAKES, said, "We unfortunately kill 5,000 young teen drivers a year in our country. It's an epidemic, so we're trying to make a dent in that."

It gives kids a hands-on experience to deal with incidents like skidding, hitting an icy patch and drinking and driving.

Tod Neifert, with the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department, said, "The first time to have a vehicle slide out on you is not when you're out on the roadway. It really needs to be in a controlled environment like this."

The demonstration included local firefighters and truck drivers, and Neifert said it hit close to home.

He said, "In a short period of time, in the Manheim community, we lost eight young people to vehicle accidents. This program is a great teaching tool to our young people, and I think it's invaluable."

Parents came along with their kids to learn more about responsible driving. Officials want students to know they can call their parents to get picked up, even if they made bad decisions.

"I know lots of parents that wish they could've gotten that call instead of the one they got," Neifert said.

Although instructors said the kids come in and don't seem too happy to be there. But by the end of the program, those same kids are smiling and have more confidence on the roads.

Reilly said, "What we need to do is try to arm these kids with better skills, let them have better awareness, so that they can make better decisions behind the wheel. Our goal with this program is very simple: We want those teens to outlive their parents. If they make good decisions, they'll be able to do that."

The program will be back in Central Pennsylvania in October.