2002-12-12 / Calendar

STTOP to reward teens for driving safely

By Michael Picarella
Acorn Staff Writer

By Michael Picarella Acorn Staff Writer

GOOD JOB-L.A. County Sheriff's Department Dep. Mike Woodard shows coupons that will be handed out to teenagers who were observed driving safely, courteously and defensively.GOOD JOB-L.A. County Sheriff's Department Dep. Mike Woodard shows coupons that will be handed out to teenagers who were observed driving safely, courteously and defensively.

If you’re a young person and a police officer stops you, don’t panic; he might be rewarding you for being a good driver. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Dep. Mike Woodard of STTOP (Sheriff’s Teen Traffic Offender Program) will give more than 50 young drivers free car washes, movie tickets and more for demonstrating safe driving habits.

STTOP, a program that tries to correct reckless driving behaviors, was L.A. County Sheriff Department’s response to local fatalities involving teenage motorists. Residents can report bad drivers to the STTOP hotline number and Woodard, the program coordinator, will go to young motorists’ homes and speak with both the individuals and parents to help resolve any questions over potentially dangerous driving.

It "requires the public’s input," Woodard said in a previous interview. "They’re our eyes out there on the street."

But STTOP shouldn’t only respond to bad driving, Woodard said recently.

"Generally, the contacts teenagers have with us are negative, as far as traffic stops and tickets. It’s not that often that they have somebody tell them their doing a good job. I think it’s important that they know there are two sides to the program," Woodard said.

The objective, he added, is to improve teenage driving.

Woodard started rewarding drivers late last week. He’ll continue the displays of gratitude through the holiday season until teenagers return to school in January. Woodard might again reward young motorists who demonstrate good driving habits during summer break.

It wasn’t difficult, Woodard said, to launch the reward program.

"I got some area businesses to donate," he said. A lot of people are happy to help, including auto insurance companies.

Woodard obtained coupons for each city in this area, including Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Westlake Village and Hidden Hills. He doesn’t want to give an Agoura Hills car wash coupon, for example, to a Westlake Village motorist, he said.

Teenage drivers can be rewarded at anytime. But they won’t be stopped before school or at other inconvenient times.

"When I’m out driving around, going to counsel parents and out patrolling the area, when I see a teenager driver doing a good job, I’m going to stop and talk to them and give them these gift certificates as well as the STTOP literature," Woodard said. "I may stop them if there’s a safe spot on a side street," Woodard said. "Or if they’re heading into a shopping center, I’ll let them park and I’ll go and talk to them. It’ll take a couple minutes. I don’t want anybody getting upset that I’m delaying them from getting where they need to go," he said.

STTOP is gaining momentum. More people have discovered the program and know the phone number. And Woodard hopes this new system—rewarding good drivers—will increase its effectiveness.

Several other sheriff’s stations have adopted STTOP, including other cities across the country. Ventura County cities including Moorpark, Oak Park and Thousand Oaks, started their own versions of STTOP. Fillmore, Santa Clarita and others will soon begin similar programs.

To report dangerous teen drivers or to request a visit from Woodard, call the toll free number at (877) 310-STOP (7867).

The hotline isn’t for emergencies and calls to the hotline aren’t answered immediately. Urgent, life-threatening reports, such as drunk driving, should go to 911.

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