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Ventura County

Sheriff's Hotline Taking Numbers of Bad Teen Drivers

June 05, 2002|KEVIN F. SHERRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hoping to put the brakes on teenage hot-rodders, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department is calling on motorists to use a hotline to report offenders.

The Sheriff's Teen Traffic Offender Program, or STTOP, allows drivers who see aggressive or dangerous driving by a teenager to report the incident to deputies, who then visit the teen's home.

"This is like a big, giant, mobile Neighborhood Watch program," said Sgt. Patti Salas of the Thousand Oaks traffic bureau.

"Parents do not know what the kids are doing when they're out driving by themselves," she said.

Drivers under age 20 account for a disproportionate number of traffic fatalities, officials say.

In Ventura County, there were two double fatalities last year involving teens. Last June, two girls died in Ventura when the car they were riding in plunged off the Ventura Freeway. In December, two boys died in Thousand Oaks when their sport-utility vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a brick wall.

STTOP is designed to intervene before youthful rowdiness can develop into bad habits, or tragedy, authorities say.

"Our goal is to reduce the instances of dangerous teen driving," said Salas, who is heading the program in Ventura County.

When drivers in Oak Park, Moorpark or Thousand Oaks--east county communities served by the Sheriff's Department--see an unsafe teen driver, they can call a toll-free number to report the incident.

"We're not interested in 40 [mph] in a 35 zone," Salas said.

She said deputies would rather hear about more dangerous behaviors, such as racing, aggressive driving or tailgating.

As always, she said, immediate threats to public safety should be reported to 911, regardless of the age of the driver.

"We ask [callers] to leave as much information as they can," Salas said. "The most important thing for us to come up with is a license plate number."

Callers also should leave information on the type of behavior, make and color of the vehicle, as well as the time of day and location, Salas said.

A few days after receiving the call, a deputy will visit the teen's home and have a talk with the parents on aggressive driving.

"The goal here is to let the parents know these are all the impacts of your kid driving foolishly," Salas said. "It's not going to be a door knock and then leave."

The deputy will not issue a citation to the offender, unless the person has committed a serious crime such as a hit-and-run, she added.

"This isn't punitive," Salas said.

"There's no sanctions involved. Our goal is to share information."

Callers remain anonymous to the offender. "Hopefully, that encourages them to continue to call," Salas said.

STTOP was created two years ago at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Lost Hills station.

The Los Angeles County and Ventura County agencies now share the hotline.

Each month, the hotline receives 30 to 35 reports of rowdy teen driving, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Woodard said. Most of those callers provide enough information for a visit, Woodard said.

Woodard, who works exclusively with STTOP, meets with parents and offers tips on how to better monitor their teen's driving habits. Parents can track mileage, restrict souped-up car modifications or perform their own stakeout to watch their children's driving habits.

"I remind the parents that this [driving] is a privilege," Woodard said. "It can be revoked at any time."

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FYI

The Sheriff's Teen Traffic Offender Program serves Moorpark, Oak Park, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills, Malibu, Calabasas and Hidden Hills. To report an incident in these communities, call (877) 310-STOP.

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