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New program aimed at teen driving safety

By Staff | Jan 12, 2010

A new program aims to reduce teen fatalities in motor vehicle crashes through education and behind-the-wheel training.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office has teamed up with the Florida Sheriff’s Association to offer the Teen Driver Challenge. The free, two-day program combines classroom activities with hands-on driving instruction to provide licensed drivers ages 16-19 with the knowledge and experience to reduce their chances of being involved in a crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that “motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen fatalities in America. Based on miles driven, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers,” according to a prepared statement from the LCSO.
“Because of the teen fatalities and the problems teens are having with driving, we figured, what would be a better way to impact the community than to target teens,” Capt. Chris Velez, of the LCSO Public Services Division, said.
Sponsored by the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the program is run in about 19 counties out of the 67 in Florida. A first for the LCSO, the program is set to run Friday-Saturday, Feb. 19-20, March 26-27, April 16-17, May 21-22 and June 18-19. Teens must drive their own vehicles in the program.
According to the statement, “the curriculums were created based on the fact that most crashes involving teen drivers are classified as ‘avoidable'”… and that due to lack of experience of training, teens are not prepared to
make the vehicle respond appropriately.”
“What we’re trying to do is target the parents to get them to sign their kids up,” Velez said, adding that his daughter is of driving age. “If it is going to make them safer, it’s going to make everyone else on the road
Katie Patrick, 16, of Cape Coral, just received her driver’s license Friday.
Patrick, a sophomore at Island Coast High School, said she signed up for the January session with a friend and she is “really excited to take it.”
“It’s going to boost my confidence with driving. I don’t know everything that can happen on the road because I’m brand new,” she said. “After this class, I’ll know most of the scenarios that can happen and the proper ways to be safe.”
Patrick said her stepfather, a medical captain with the Fort Myers Fire Department, thinks the program is a good idea because he knows firsthand the “aftermath of reckless teen driving.” She added that her family wants her to be a safe driver and not “get hurt like so many people do.”
The program runs from 5-9 p.m. Fridays and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. Velez said the Friday portion is more of a classroom discussion using a PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Florida Sheriff’s Association. Instructors cover teen crash facts, knowing one’s vehicle and vehicle dynamics, using one’s senses, safe driving habits, alcohol/texting and driving and more.
On Saturday, the teens spend eight hours behind the wheel. Deputies first ride with the youths through the range, then exit the vehicle and allow the teens to drive through the course on their own. Instructors run through each scenario five or six times until the students get it right, according to Velez.
“It’s the same course that the law enforcement officers use in the police academy,” he said.
Areas covered Saturday include threshold/emergency braking, backing, cornering, forward and reverse serpentine, offroad recovery and evasive maneuvers.
“They learn how to maneuver their cars so they don’t roll them over,” Velez added.
According to Patrick, she would recommend the program to all teens.
“I’d like all my friends to do it with me because I don’t want them to get
hurt,” she said. “The roads are a dangerous place.”
Participants receive a T-shirt and a certificate of completion. Velez said some insurance companies may honor the certificate with a lower premium.
Seating is limited. To register or for more information, call Kathy Lusk with the Lee County Sheriff¹s Office at 477-1400.