Sheriff’s Association Teaches Teens the Proper Principles of Driving Safely


Stephen Owsinski 

With the reopening of school districts and while relatively typical curriculums in high schools are navigated as best possible, teens on the precipice of “driver education” coursework/credits are receiving a helping hand to steer them in the right direction as they embark behind the wheel of an automobile. Although some high schools have driving instructors on payroll, another highly skilled source pitches in to teach youngsters safe/legal motor vehicle operations: Law enforcement officers.

What a fantastic way to usher in/recognize #TeenDriverSafetyWeek!

In Florida, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) teamed up with the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) and forged a program/unit of LEOs to spend time with upper-level high-schoolers and professionally indoctrinate students in driver education: Traffic laws, road safety, vehicle operations/control, pedestrian presence, distracted driving, automobile engineering/physics, highway safety statistics, unsafe driver behaviors, and all things mobile (to include cell phones).

Especially geared to young minds electronically dialed in to social media and its inherent distractions, MCSO deputies walk students through some of their own pointed PSAs regarding “texting while driving.”

Published on the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office page is the following announcement: “It’s National #TeenDriverSafetyWeek and a great time to discuss the importance of safe driving practices with the young drivers in your life. We are honored to be able to offer the Teen Driver Challenge program for teens in Manatee County thanks to support of the Florida Sheriffs Association which provides 10 hours of hands-on instruction by MCSO Driving Instructors for free.”

And by “free,” they mean the publicly available brief educational videos on the MCSO YouTube channel as well as the in-person coppers (in-service instructors in red shirts) sharing their professional driving expertise that they typically drive into the minds of police cadets at the training academy. The police academy “emergency vehicle operations course” (EVOC) instructors —often comprised of active duty police officials— remain indelible for me. I garnered lessons and honed skills far beyond the rudimentary requirement in general driver’s ed curriculums. I had tons of fun in that training phase. (Incidentally, these youngsters will not be receiving that level of instruction, at least not until they officially endeavor their police career.)



And the Teen Driver Challenge program created by FSA and administered via the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office instructors is merely accounting of the program started in 2007, trumpeting its credo “Sheriffs Teaching Teen Driver Safety”:



To date, FSA’s Teen Driver program is applied in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties, and they travel to driver instruction sites equipped with “handy trailers that carry around our cones, drunk carts, drunk goggles and activity mats!” (Disclaimer: several orange cones kissed my bumper and/or hugged my undercarriage while EVOC training at the academy, so I know these kids may be sweating symptoms of the dreaded nagging cones.)



According to Florida Sheriffs Association Communications & Youth Services Coordinator Stephanie Ghazvini, the Teen Driver Challenge was born “to address the primary factors affecting teen drivers – speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, texting while driving and distracted driving. The program is offered at no cost to teen drivers” in Florida and is taught by sheriff’s deputies “licensed as commercial driving school instructors.” These are the EVOC instructors we mentioned above, well-versed red-shirted gurus of motor vehicle operations.



How popular is this free program? Typically, there aren’t enough instructors to accommodate the thousands of students who declare interest in enrollment. Ms. Ghazvini offered, “More than 2,000 students participate in a TDC course each year, with the demand for course participation often outweighing availability.”

As nightly news consumers know well, the pertinence and imperative nature of such a program is evinced by far too many reports of teen drivers becoming and/or causing fatalities. “According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Motor Vehicle Safety division, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers. Roughly 25 to 30 percent of teen drivers will be involved in a crash within the first 12 months of getting their operator’s license,” the Florida Sheriffs Association cited…punctuated with, “The Teen Driver Challenge was created to help prevent Florida teens from becoming a statistic.”

As disclaimers and qualifiers go, the Florida Sheriffs Association clarifies, “The class will consist of lecture and driving experience” and that the Teen Driver Challenge “is not a supplemental or advanced driving course, it is a defensive driving program that covers various topics” such as “teen crash facts; knowing your vehicle; using your senses; vehicle dynamics; drug/alcohol use; aggressive driving and road rage; figure-8; threshold/emergency braking; backing; cornering; forward and reverse serpentine; off-road recovery; evasive maneuvers; skid control.”

Among many more, the aforementioned bevy of driver education principles are what police cadets learn while training at the police academy then employ while officially on duty; the kids get a decent dose of expert driving from expert drivers bolstered by a book of traffic laws. Moreover, this model provides excellent opportunity for cops and kids to come together, share time, bond well, and ensure likeminded dividends with respect to motoring safely and friendship throughout the lifespan.

Despite that it was not specifically mentioned, rest assured these selfless LEOs offering their time and expertise are setting the record straight on the Move Over Law. Still, drivers of all ages are not heeding the basic operation of moving over one lane when approaching an emergency vehicle with lighting activated, usually for traffic crash investigations and disabled motorists stranded on the shoulder (or perilously stalled in a travel lane like a sitting duck.)

Logically, parents and guardians of young teens prepping to learn driving can enjoy more peace of mind knowing that not only are their children learning from some of the best instructors on the planet but that they are in the company of the good guys/gals and befriending police officers ripe with education and experience, especially in the specific subject matter.



Funded by corporate sponsors and individual donors, the Teen Driver Challenge is a great vehicle to condition young minds poised at the starting gate. Even better when deployed by cops whose lives are heavily invested on the highways and byways.

About the Author: Stephen Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer who today works closely with the National Police Association. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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