Teen Driving Challenge is more than a driving class

OKEECHOBEE — Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, and 1-in-4 teen drivers will be involved in a crash within 12 months of getting their driver’s license.

To combat that trend, the Florida Sheriff’s Association (FSA) in 2007 organized a team of law enforcement officials and teen-driving experts and created the Teen Driving Challenge (TDC).

Locally, that program is under the direction of Deputy Sergeant Keith Stripling from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO).

The TDC is not a class in which 15- to 19-year-olds learn to drive. Instead, students learn defensive driving techniques in a hands-on environment with an experienced law enforcement instructor.

“We do the same thing they do in the police academy — just in a condensed version,” said Sgt. Stripling.

He explained that the 12-hour class has been split over two sessions — a four hours on Friday evening and eight hours on Saturday. But, he said he plans on revamping those sessions.

Normally, an average of 25 teens take the class.

The first four hours of the class is dedicated to classroom work, during which students take a pretest then go through the FSA manual and watch some videos.

That pretest, explained Sgt. Stripling, asks such things as: the leading cause of death among teens in the U.S.; different types of braking systems; the supplemental restraint system; driving while fatigued; driving while texting; how to do a vehicle inspection; and how to check your vehicle’s tire pressure, engine oil and transmission fluid.

“On the second day we go to Okeechobee High School and put the students through a condensed driving course that covers such things skid recovery, evasive driving maneuvers, figure 8 and shuffle steering,” Sgt. Stripling explained. “We have a Ford Crown Victoria that’s assigned to the program and the anti-lock braking system is disengaged. We’ll use that to put the kids in a skid situation.”

He went on to point out that students will also work on off-road recovery.

“Statistics show young people don’t know how to recover when their vehicle leaves the road,” added the deputy.

Then, at the end of the course, the students are given another test. That test is the exact same test the students were given at the beginning of the class.

“There’s no pass or fail, just as long as we can demonstrate they picked up on the information. We want to see how much they retained and learned,” Sgt. Stripling offered.

The sergeant, who’s been a certified instructor for five years, said the FSA program started in Leon County and 37 Florida counties now take part.

To be eligible to take part in the course, students must be between the ages of 15 and 19 and have a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit. If they have a learner’s permit, a licensed driver must accompany them to the driving range.

To register, contact Sgt. Stripling at 863-763-2131, ext. 1204, during normal business hours. He can also be reached on his cell phone at 863-634-9108.

The next class will be held Sept. 13, 14 and 15. Classes are held each month, September through April.

For information on the TDC, go to the OCSO web site at okeesheriff.org. Information on the program can be found under the ‘Events’ tab.

“We’re not out there to be a basic driving class,” said Sgt. Stripling. “We’re out there to teach how to react and what to do.”

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