2002-01-31 / Front Page

Reporting bad teen driving encouraged in L.A. County

Reporting bad teen driving encouraged in L.A. County

By Michael Picarella

Acorn Staff Writer

In response to recent vehicle fatalities, sheriff’s department officials from surrounding communities got together last week and discussed a collaborative effort in STTOP (Sheriff’s Teen Traffic Offender Program). The program already exists in Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Westlake Village, Malibu and Hidden Hills. Communities expressing interest in the program include Oak Park, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Camarillo and Newbury Park.

About 6,000 teenagers will die in car crashes across America this year, officials said. Statistics show that traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for teenagers 16 to 19. Young motorists take more chances, are more immature and are less experienced, studies show.

For decades, insurance companies have charged young drivers higher fees because of greater liability.

STTOP was created over a year ago, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Dep. Mike Woodard.

It’s been successful, he said, in preventing driver fatalities among young motorists. The program tries to reduce reckless driving and intervenes when young drivers (usually 16 to 18 year olds) display poor or dangerous judgment while on the road.

Aside from following up on collision reports and citations given, STTOP also encourages citizens to report foolhardy drivers.

"The purpose," Woodard said, "is to make teens and parents aware of some of the driving habits that are going on. What happens is a citizen will call up the 877 number to report a dangerous teen driver, and they’ll get a license number and a vehicle description and maybe even the person that was driving … I’ll run that plate and find out where that person lives, and in the evening or late afternoon, I’ll go knock on the door and have a chat with his folks or her folks."

These drivers haven’t committed a crime, Woodard said, because they weren’t caught by a law enforcement officer while speeding or reckless driving, so no enforcement will occur.

"I’m only there for a prevention type of a thing," he said. "Most parents are very interested in hearing what I have to say."

Many parents have responded to a visit from STTOP—they’ve suspended their child’s privilege to drive or have only allowed them to drive to work or school until they’ve proven that they’re more responsible. In the past, STTOP has also brought teens and their parents to the coroner’s office to discover firsthand the fatal realities of dangerous driving.

Officials of other communities have seen positive results from STTOP and have inquired about it.

"We’re trying to work out a multi-agency program where we’re all working together," Woodard said. Many calls to STTOP come from Ventura County, he said, and he can’t follow them up because they’re out of the L.A. County program’s jurisdiction.

When and if other areas join STTOP, those who call the program’s hotline to report dangerous teen drivers will be given a choice of jurisdictions. For example, a recorded voice will ask the caller to press 3 for Simi Valley or 2 for Thousand Oaks, etc., and they’ll be transferred to the appropriate division.

"We’re working on trying to get some sponsorship behind the program for printing and some of the basic needs," Woodard said. He hopes, he said, to inform more people about STTOP. Many people don’t know about it and more community involvement should help spread the word.

There’s no deadline to join, but that could change, Woodard said.

To report dangerous teenage driving, call toll free 1 (877) 310-STOP (7867).

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