The Program Elements
There are five aspects to the BRAKE program, each represented by a letter of the program name.
- Behaviour – The program is intended to modify the behaviour of young drivers (either existing drivers or future drivers), in particular to have young drivers become more conscious of the dangers they may encounter on the road.
- Risk – The program focuses upon hazard perception and the identification of the risks associated with those hazards.
- Attitude – The program help young adults approach driving with the caution needed to avoid crashes, and have an understanding of responsibility and accountability. This is not only for the drivers but includes those that will be passengers in cars.
- Knowledge – The appreciation and recognition of the risk associated with a particular hazard, at a fundamental brain chemistry level, requires the driver to have a background of experiences to draw upon.
- Education – The fundamental approach of this program is that young drivers can be educated to be better drivers. Education then builds knowledge, correct behaviours, appropriate attitudes towards safety, an understanding of risks, and provides a sound base for future road safety .
What’s All This Talk About Gorillas?
A main problem concerning young drivers is that they do not accept that they are at risk. Part of the solution is to use their predilection for fun and games. Hence the gorilla – the gorilla is used in the program in a humorous manner – “Don’t let the gorilla get you’.
During the program we show the participants how they can easily miss critical signs and information because there is so much going on – they concentrate on one thing (for example, changing gears) and may not notice something else critically important (a large truck running a red light).
Risks associated with hazards while driving are not instinctual, and less likely to trigger the deeper instinctive parts of our brain that respond to immediate and apparent threats, such as being attacked by a large animal. Using a gorilla concept to personify the abstract dangers on the road will hopefully allow those deeper instincts to come into play at some level.
This then allows you as a parent to say” Watch out for the gorilla” or, “don’t let the gorilla get you” rather than constantly having to say “be careful”, “drive safely”, etc. We know that it is a play on words, however our experience has shown that it works.
During part of the parent’s program we have parents complete an exercise from the BRAKE program that introduces the gorilla and demonstrates what we mean by how easy it is to miss important information when focussing on something else.
The bulk of the program is participant directed – that is, it is not a bunch of information being presented by some “expert” teacher, although a couple of items of “background” information are supplied where it is unlikely they would know enough factual data. This background information is presented during the parents session, so that you can assist your student driver to understand the concepts.
The human mind has developed in a way that ranks new knowledge received by personal experience over and above that received indirectly. That means we are more likely to believe and remember something we have experienced ourselves than something that someone has told us about.
The desire for peer acceptance means that knowledge acquired as a result of a group experience or group consensus is valued more than something we have been told. The young people doing the program may have spent up to 10 to 12 years not really believing (or largely ignoring) what teachers or parents have told them.
Having a “teacher” tell them about road safety will not result in a significant change of attitude. Research has shown that drawing the bulk of information from the participants themselves validates it in their eyes, and makes it far more likely that it will be remembered and acted upon.
Technically speaking, if one follows the social constructivist view of ‘truth” as a peer-group construct, it follows that the “knowledge” presented and elucidated by group consensus from within their own group is more likely to be validated than any material gained by listening to another lecture by someone they may well suspect of ulterior “teacher” motives.
That’s a fancy way of saying that a teenager is more likely to believe their friends than they are an authority figure like a teacher or a parent (and by totally ignoring the relative experience and knowledge of the two groups).
The trainer therefore, is a facilitator more than a teacher, although they should be familiar with all the road rules and statistics in case some data is required or if some error of fact or misconception should be introduced by one of the participants.