County News

‘Drive with a Cop’ Teaches Safe Driving

A teenager drives with a deputy from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office at the Portland International Raceway in Clackamas County, Ore. Photo courtesy of Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office

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The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office hopes to cut down on fatal teen driving accidents with expert lessons from deputies

Problem

Teen drivers are more likely to be involved in fatal car crashes.

Solution

Hold an annual event to teach teenagers the importance of safe driving.

In Clackamas County, Ore., teens are riding along with police officers — but the officers aren’t the ones doing the driving.

Sheriff’s deputies take the passenger seat for the annual “Drive with a Cop” event. The program puts teens behind the wheel and allows deputies who are certified driving instructors to teach teens safe driving techniques as well as the dangers of driving while distracted.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, specifically with drivers between the ages of 16 and 19, who are three times more likely than drivers over the age of 20 to be in a fatal car crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The “Drive with a Cop” event is held at the Portland International Raceway and is free and open to the first 100 teens with driver’s licenses who register.

At the event, teens rotate through different stations, complete distracted driving activities and listen to speakers. One station allows teens to wear impaired goggles to give them an idea of what it would be like to drive under the influence.

Carrie Higgins, who lost her 17-year-old daughter Maddi in a fatal car crash, has spoken at the event and shared with teens and their parents what life is like after losing someone in a car crash. Higgins partnered with the “Drive with a Cop” program to tell her story.

A doctor has also talked with teens and parents to discuss brain development in adolescents to try to explain why some teens make decisions to drive distracted or impaired.

After hearing from speakers and rotating through the stations, county deputies drive with teens and teach them tips and tricks for safe driving.

Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts was a driving instructor before becoming sheriff. Throughout his career, he has had to respond to multiple fatal crashes involving teens.

“I think if you talk to any law enforcement officer who has responded, you don’t forget those tragedies,” Roberts said.

Like Higgins, Roberts wanted to find a way to help minimize or reduce fatal crashes involving teens.

He explained that there are certain exercises those who are training to become law enforcement officers complete to avoid crashes when driving a police car. He said he believed this training could also be helpful and applicable to young drivers. For example, law enforcement officers conduct collision avoidance training reviews for situations where someone unexpectedly runs in front of a car, Roberts said.

He added that another aspect of the program is to engage youth with law enforcement officers.

“I’ve seen a number of kids go through it and they start out a little bit nervous getting in the car with a police officer, but by the end of the day, there is a positive relationship built between officers and youth,” he said.

Kimberly Lippert, the community relations specialist with the Sheriff’s Office and the event coordinator for “Drive with a Cop,” said the driving portion of the day teaches teens how to safely brake, make safe turns and how to handle their vehicle in different types of situations.

“Those are things that you don’t necessarily know that you need to know until you’ve encountered it on your own before,” Lippert said.

Part of the reason for requiring teens to have their driver’s licenses to register for the program is because once they have some experience, they are more likely to understand that mistakes are easy to make, Lippert said.

“If we can teach them important skills early on, they are less likely to die in a car crash,” she said. “That early driving training pays huge dividends down the road.”

Lippert added that in addition to learning about driving safely, teenagers are having positive interactions with law enforcement.

“By the end of the day, they realize that this person is just another safe person in their community that they can build a relationship with,” Lippert said.

Roberts said other law enforcement agencies throughout the state of Oregon have created their own “Drive with a Cop” programs mirrored after the one in Clackamas County.

“It’s been amazing to work with parents and teens and learn so much from them and be able to help them out as they begin their journey as new drivers,” Lippert said. “If we can save one life, it will have all been worthwhile.”

Roberts added, “Our ultimate goal is to save lives and really build a strong relationship between youth and law enforcement.”

Drive with a Cop won a 2018 NACo Achievement Award inthe justice and public safety category. See more award-winning county programs at www.naco.org/topics/awards-programs.

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