Sheriffs, parents can guide teen drivers
For teen drivers learning the rules of the road, the most dangerous intersection they enter may be the one where a youthful sense of immortality crosses paths with inexperience and a willingness to take risks.
Ten years ago, the Michigan Sheriffs Association launched a program geared to make teens stop and think before engaging in risky driving behaviors that sometimes cost them their lives. A decade later, crashes involving teen drivers are down 24.4 percent. We designed the program as a partnership between sheriffs and parents to ensure teens’ safety. Essentially, it’s based on the premise that the next best thing to having a parent in the car is incentivizing the teen to drive as if the parent is actually there.
We called it STOPPED for Sheriffs Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers. It’s a long acronym, but also a simple explanation of how the program works. If a teen driver is pulled over for any traffic violation, we notify parents. Doesn’t matter if a ticket was issued or not. The red sticker on the inside of the windshield is a visible reminder to the teen that parents will be notified if their son or daughter is stopped for speeding, distracted driving, too many passengers or a host of other common issues.
The STOPPED program can’t take all the credit for the decrease in teen accidents and fatalities, since several other initiatives — graduated licensing and more mandated hours of supervised driving — are working as well. From 2005 to 2014, however, the number of accidents among drivers age 16-20 steadily decreased. In 2006, the total number of crashes — including fatal, non-fatal and property damage — among the age group was 73,556. As of 2014, the total number decreased to 55,540 or 24.4 percent.
Although they may not be physically in the back seat, parents who sign up for the STOPPED Program can virtually be in the car with their teens and encourage them to stop and think.
“The STOPPED sticker is a powerful visual in front of my son every time he takes the wheel,” said one mother. “It gives me some peace of mind, too.”
“When my daughter looks at that red decal, it helps her deal with the peer pressure to take risks,” said one dad. “I think of it as a protective shield.”
STOPPED is a free program, thanks to generous corporate support from State Farm. The best time to sign up is when the teen obtains his or her driver’s permit at the Secretary of State’s office. Register there or on line at www.misheriff.org/programs/stopped or at your local sheriff’s office. As long as a teen is driving a parental vehicle, the STOPPED sticker is in force. It’s also good for boats, snowmobiles or any vehicle licensed in Michigan.
With more than 100,000 new teen drivers on the road each year, we’d like to see many more parents join the STOPPED program. We suspect the only parents not signed up are those yet to hear of it.
Terrence Jungel is executive director/CEO of Michigan Sheriffs Association, a statewide organization which provides education, training and programs in communities throughout Michigan on issues such as safe schools and teen driver safety.