OLD BRIDGE — Things to do on a fall weekend in New Jersey: pumpkin picking, raking leaves and brushing up on driving safety.

The state Motor Vehicle Commission offers a free program at Raceway Park in Old Bridge on Saturday and Sunday with the BRAKES (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) Teen Pro-Active Driving School as part of their JustDrive.com safety campaign.

The program features four half-day sessions with classroom instruction and multiple hands-on behind-the-wheel driving exercises. The program was founded by Doug Herbert, a retired NHRA professional drag race driver who was motivated by personal loss.

"In January 2008 my life changed when my two sons (Jon and James) were killed in a car crash and I didn't know at that time car crashes are the number one cause of death among teenagers. Five thousand teenagers die in car crashes every year," he said. "I decided at that point it wasn't just a number to me anymore. I decided that my passion in life was going to be to help other families and other teenagers to be more responsible behind the wheel of a car. We're going to teach them skills and the ability to make good decisions to keep them out of bad situations on the road."

Along with panic braking, accident avoidance, car control and other important topics, the curriculum emphasizes the dangers of texting and driving, which makes the BRAKES program a complement to the MVC’s JustDrive.com campaign.

MVC Chairman and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez called the program an advanced driver's education course where teens will learn "emergency situations, skid situations and how to react to that. These are things you don't necessarily learn when you're getting your drivers license out on the road. It is for teens but frankly others can take full advantage of this.  It's things that drivers of all ages need to know."

The course puts drivers behind the wheel with a professional driver in distracted driving situations such as reading, texting and cell phone use.

"Continuing to talk or text while driving is just plain irresponsible behavior, and we hope to spread that message to newer drivers through our partnership with the BRAKES program and our ongoing JustDrive.com campaign.”

Herbert said the course teaches practical skills before participants get in an emergency situation.

"Eventually, you're going to run into a skid or a panic stopping situation where you have to activate your anti-lock breaks or gonna drop a wheel off the side of the road you have to recover and bring it back on or you're going to be distracted," Herbert said.

Martinez said that "the reason were using a professional race car driver is that they take this seriously. They know the power of a motor vehicle. You want to make sure you have your wits about you and that you are focused on driving. It's a serious responsibility."

The program is available at Raceway Park from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Participants must have a permit or driver's license (teens ages 15-19), 30 hours of driving time behind the wheel and be accompanied by at least least one parent or guardian.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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