By Margie Wuebker
Law enforcement officers and area parents are forming a partnership designed to reduce the number of young drivers involved in traffic accidents.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey will hold a press conference this afternoon to formally announce the beginning of a program called STOPPED -- Sheriff's Telling Our Parents & Promoting Educated Drivers. The program is set up to notify parents if their child is ever pulled over by a deputy.
"We have had nine young people under the age of 21 killed in traffic accidents in the last 18 months," Grey told The Daily Standard. "Those are grim statistics."
Six of the accidents involved speed or failure to control, one claimed the life of a pedestrian, one was alcohol-related and another resulted from an older driver running a stop sign.
Through the program, parents voluntarily register with the sheriff's office any motor vehicle that will be operated by someone under the age of 21. If the registered vehicle is stopped and the driver is found to be under the age of 21, a law enforcement officer will complete a notification card providing the time and location of the stop, the driver's name and the number of passengers, reason for the stop and whether any traffic ticket was issued. Registered parents will receive the completed card and an accompanying letter of explanation at the address or e-mail they designate.
The numbered decal for the vehicle is to be affixed inside the front windshield of each vehicle registered. Grey said this should alleviate any fears that stops are initiated because of the decal.
"Teenagers might think that was the case if the decal was in the back window," he said.
Grey heard about STOPPED through his association with the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association. The Onondago County Sheriff's Office in Syracuse, N.Y., launched the program and a representative traveled to Longmont, Colo., for a presentation that drew representatives from across the country.
"Licking and Greene counties are the only ones here in Ohio with similar programs," said Deputy Lori Knapke, the department's crime prevention specialist who oversees the new partnership. "Law enforcement in those counties have joined in the effort."
The Wapakoneta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol as well as police departments from throughout Mercer County have joined in the effort.
Lt. Dan Lay, the Wapakoneta post commander, applauds the cooperative effort calling it a good example of law enforcement and parents working to keep young drivers safe.
"Our goal in supporting this program is to reduce the number of traffic crashes," he added. "We have lost too many young people already."
Registration forms will be available at the sheriff's office, participating law enforcement agencies and local driver's testing stations.
This is not the first time law enforcement has collaborated on a safety program. RACE -- Responsible and Careful Everytime -- was launched last year throughout Mercer and Auglaize counties. Marked cruisers park at local school districts periodically to remind teenagers to buckle up, slow down and drive safely.
"Neither program has nothing to do with how many arrests we can make or tickets we can issue," Grey said. "It's all about keeping young people from becoming statistics."