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Published: Wednesday, 6/27/2007

Teens' road to safety

TEENS tend to think they are indestructible. The truth is often tragically different. That means parents, teachers, and law enforcement sometimes have to take unpopular measures to stop teenagers from indulging in risky behavior, and protect them to the best extent possible if they do something stupid.

Driving without regard to speed limits or traffic signs would certainly come under that description.

A voluntary program that aims to keep parents involved in the oversight of their children's driving habits is being introduced across the state line in Hillsdale and Monroe counties.

They are joining more than 60 other counties in Michigan to implement the measure, under which law enforcement officers will tell parents when their kids are pulled over, whether a ticket is issued or not. Across the state, the program has registered around 1,650 vehicles this year.

Sheriffs Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers - the acronym is STOPPED - operates in only two Ohio counties, Licking and Greene. Given the simplicity and important objective of the program it clearly should be implemented far more widely.

The concept is straightforward and effective. Parents who register with the program will receive a free decal to place on the windshield of their teen's car. If their child is pulled over and an officer sees the decal, parents will be notified of the stop.

Fear of their parents finding out about a traffic stop can be a powerful motivator to young drivers. And if that keeps one more teen from become a traffic accident statistic, then the program has done its job.

The statistics for teen driving and accidents strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. Last year, motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause of death for teens 16 to 19 in this country. In Hillsdale County, young people aged 15 to 24 are only about 15 percent of county drivers but are responsible for about a quarter of all accidents and 40 percent of all fatalities.

The disproportionate number of accidents and fatalities mandates that if teens can't protect themselves, then parents and authorities must step in.

Becoming a good driver is an acquired skill that takes time. While it might be thought that teens, with their strong vision and quick reflexes, would make the best of drivers, those qualities can at times be offset by an irresistible urge to go too fast, a lack of concentration, or impatience.

We know how important cars are to teens, both as a practical means of transport in an era when buses are few and far between in most communities, and as a rite of passage. A driver's license is a potent symbol of passing from childhood toward adulthood.

It's also important that this program should not be carte blanche for police to be injudicious in their stops of teens.

Ultimately, though, how can anyone oppose a project that has, at its heart, the desire to keep sons and daughters safe from harm?



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