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Published: Thursday, 6/21/2007

Hillsdale, Monroe join program to tell parents of teens' traffic stop

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Teenagers often lie to their parents.

They lie about where they're going, what they're doing, who they're with, and especially about being pulled over by police.

Monroe and Hillsdale counties will soon implement a voluntary program that's in place in more than 60 counties throughout Michigan, including Lenawee County, making it difficult for young drivers to keep their run-ins with the law a secret from their parents.

The STOPPED program - Sheriffs Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers - notifies parents through a letter sent in the mail whenever their young son or daughter is pulled over while driving.

The notice is sent regardless of whether a ticket is issued.

"A lot of times when we issue those citations, they're more afraid to tell their parents than anything," said Sgt. Geoffrey Kovenich of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

Monroe County resident Brock Chambers, 17, said his parents' punishment for speeding or running a red light would be "pretty big," even if police let it slide with a warning.

That's why the soon-to-be Erie Mason High School senior said he wouldn't tell his parents if he was stopped by police unless they gave him a ticket.

Parents can register their vehicle with the Michigan Sheriffs' Association on its Web site, www.michigansheriff.com, for any driver under 21 years old.

They will then receive a small stop-sign decal at no charge to put on the upper, left corner of the vehicle's windshield.

When a vehicle with one of those stickers is pulled over, the law enforcement official fills out a card explaining when and where the vehicle was stopped, the number of occupants in the vehicle, the reason for being pulled over, and whether a ticket was issued.

The information is forwarded to the sheriffs' association and then mailed to the parents.

Although Brock has a clean driving record, he said being able to see the stop sign decal would "definitely make me think twice about my driving."

But Brittany Banachowski, who admitted to speeding often while driving, said she wouldn't change her driving habits if her parents chose to participate in the program.

"It's just how I am," the 17-year-old Monroe County resident said.

Terrence Jungel, executive director of the sheriffs' association, said teenage drivers' lack of experience coupled with risky driving behavior results in the deaths of thousands of teenagers nationwide each year - something he hopes the program changes.

"We would much rather deliver a letter than a death message," Mr. Jungel said.

Last year, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers 16 to 19 years old and accounted for 36 percent of all deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The program, now in its second year, has proven to be successful, with only three letters sent home to parents last year out of the nearly 1,600 vehicles registered in Michigan.

So far this year, 1,658 vehicles are registered.

That alone, Mr. Jungel said, is evidence that young drivers are thinking twice before speeding or driving recklessly out of fear of being pulled over and getting punished by their parents.

The program was established by the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office near Syracuse, N.Y., in 2001.

Only two counties in Ohio, Licking and Greene, participate in the program, said Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association.

Mr. Cornwell said information about the STOPPED program has been provided to all 88 sheriff's offices across the state, but it's up to each to decide whether to participate.

The Lenawee County Sheriff's Office participated in the program last year and will continue this year with Sheriff Larry Richardson, who called it a "big success."

He said the decal acts as a deterrent.

"It definitely puts them on the straight and narrow to drive carefully," Sheriff Richardson said.

The program also provides parents with added security of knowing they will be notified of their child's behavior behind the wheel if they're pulled over.

"This gives the parents another avenue to protect their children when they're out driving," Sheriff Richardson said. "I can find out what's going on and my kids know it."

Undersheriff Jeremiah Hodshire of the Hillsdale County Sheriff's Office said law enforcement officials needed a way to capture teenagers' attention and provide a reason to drive responsibly.

In Hillsdale County, drivers aged 15 to 24 years old were responsible for 649 crashes in 2005, with alcohol a factor in 28 of them.

Those drivers represent nearly 15 percent of the county's driving population but are responsible for about 25 percent of total crashes and 40 percent of fatalities.

Undersheriff Hodshire said participating in the STOPPED program is one way to reduce those numbers.

"It keeps them alert to know that if [they're] stopped, there's going to be trouble because mom is going to find out about it," he said. "It adds another layer of accountability to underage drivers."

Contact Laren Weber at:

lweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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