Almost every day, Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle drives down William Few Parkway and sees a memorial left at the scene of a wreck that killed 17-year-old Ryan Howell, who was an active member of the sheriff's office's Explorer Post.
Sheriff Clay Whittle's STOPPED program notifies parents when their teenagers have been pulled over.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"It eats me alive," Whittle said. "I ride by, and I see it because I knew that kid personally. He was one of the neatest kids I've ever met in my life. ... There are times I wish (the memorials) weren't there because it eats me up. But it's a worthy purpose."
Whittle is starting a program called STOPPED to reduce the number of memorials by reducing the number of teen drivers killed in wrecks.
The STOPPED program, which stands for Sheriff's Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers, requires deputies to send a report card to parents who participate in the program by putting a sticker on the windshield of their vehicle. If their car is driven by anyone under 21 and is stopped for any reason by an officer, the card describing the circumstances of the stop - including the reason the car was pulled over, who was driving the vehicle and how many people were in the car - is mailed to parents.
"Ninety-five to 99 percent of the time, that right there, that little note, is going to go a whole lot farther than any little old ticket I can write (a teen driver)," Whittle said.
Whittle said he heard about a sheriff's office in New York that started the program and saw a reduced number of wrecks.
In 2003, 5,691 teens died in motor vehicle crashes nationwide. Crashes were the No. 1 cause of death of children age 13-19, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
"I am so tired of it that I am looking for anything, and I am game for anything that works to keep our kids alive," Whittle said.
Whittle said he believes the sticker, symbolizing that teen drivers are being watched by deputies and their parents, will deter teen drivers from acting irresponsibly behind the wheel.
"I think the other part is that moms and dads truly don't know what's happening with the kids," Whittle said. "Now you have mom and dad involved in it, which is the best control there is.''
Without participation in the program, deputies cannot call parents of drivers 17 and older, but can call parents of 16-year-olds because they are legally minors, Whittle said. He said he has had plenty of parents wanting to be notified when their child is pulled over. Now, Whittle can comply.
Parents signed up for the program are notified every time the car is stopped with a driver under 21. Traffic offenses are not the only reasons for a stop, many of which never result in a citation. Parents will be notified if drivers under 21 are in cars they are not supposed to be in, including behind buildings or parked in construction areas.
"It's going to allow moms and dads to more closely monitor their children and what they are doing in their automobiles," Whittle said. "I think it will also allow moms and dads to put a little more time into any problem-specific deal their children are doing."
Whittle said the program is free and voluntary. Information or registration forms can be obtained by calling the sheriff's office Community Services Division at 541-3985 or by calling dispatch at 541-2800.
"The whole purpose of this is so parents know what their children are doing when they are driving their cars, how they are operating them," Whittle said. "Because the bottom line is if you volunteer for this and put this sticker on your car and you've never heard anything from us, that means your kid is doing a great job because we haven't had to deal with them."
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