2002-09-12 / Community

Residents reminded that they can report bad teenage driving

By Michael Picarella
Acorn Staff Writer

By Michael Picarella Acorn Staff Writer

School is back in session and more teenage drivers are on the streets. As a result, more phone calls have been made to STTOP, the Sheriff’s Teen Traffic Offender Program, reporting unsafe motorists near local high schools.

STTOP, administered by the L.A. and Ventura county sheriff’s departments, tries to correct reckless and dangerous driving before young drivers cause accidents or fatalities. The local program operates in Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Westlake Village and Hidden Hills. Similar programs are offered in Thousand Oaks, Ventura, Simi Valley and elsewhere.

The local STTOP coordinator, Dep. Mike Woodard, said the program is being copied by other law enforcement agencies. He recently received a call from a station in St. Louis, Mo. asking about STTOP.

"It’s an educational program," Woodard said. "Nobody is receiving tickets and nobody is having their license taken away." But after a call, Woodard will visit the home of the driver reported and encourage the motorist or his/her parents that driving recklessly can be fatal to the driver and others.

Although the program was initially designed to report bad driving by teenagers, it’s gone full circle.

"I’ve recently had a chance to intervene with about half a dozen elderly folks. Sometimes their own family reports them with concern for their safety," Woodard said. He convinced some of the senior motorists to return to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and take another driving test so they know (for their own piece of mind) that they can drive safely.

With senior citizens, family members are usually just as concerned as the parents of teenagers.

Some critics have said STTOP discriminates against teenagers.

"I’m not targeting anyone," Woodard said. "I basically handle the calls that come in."

Woodard said he’s received calls regarding adult drivers, but that when he shows up at their door, his work is less effective.

"I go and let them know what’s occurred and that a citizen has called and is concerned about their driving habits. But it’s a lot different when you’re talking to an adult rather than talking to the parents of a young driver—parents are truly concerned about their (kids’ driving) habits and they don’t want a police officer showing up at the door with a death notification," Woodard said.

Adult motorists often take a defensive posture as if they’re trying to get out of a ticket when Woodard shows up at their door with a report about their driving, Woodard said, or, "They might say, ‘Thank you very much, have a nice day.’ There’s not a whole lot I can do. But hopefully they realize they might have been on the reckless side and that they’ve got a potentially deadly weapon that they’re in control of."

STTOP is most effective with young drivers, Woodard said, because the parents usually "step up to the plate and have a serious talk with their kids or they restrict their driving privileges."

Now that school’s back in session, STTOP will probably see a surge in teen driver reports.

"I’ve been receiving more phone calls (reporting bad drivers) around the high school than in the summer months," Woodard said. "But that tends to be the norm when school starts up because you have new drivers and peer pressure issues."

Woodard said he’d still stop by any home and speak with any driver of any age.

STTOP will host a public meeting about the program at 7 p.m. on Wed., Oct. 16 at Westlake Village City Hall. A representative from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department will be there, an auto insurance agent and others who will offer tools to parents to monitor their teenager’s driving.

For more information about the educational event, call Westlake Village City Hall at (818) 706-1613.

To report unsafe drivers to STTOP, call the toll number at (877) 310-STOP (7867).

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