Driving change: Sheriff's offices statewide encourage teens to drive safely

Lake County Sheriff's Office among agencies who host free event each month

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Driving safely is a concern for everyone that is on the road, but a free class hosted by the Lake County Sheriff's Office is teaching young drivers skills they need for whatever they experience on the road.

Students and deputies in Lake County meet one weekend a month to take their learning beyond the classroom and to the track.

In Central Florida, there have been more than 5,000 crashes a year that have involved teen drivers, according to the FIRES website, which has data on Florida crash report data for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The Sheriff's Office hosts a 12-hour hands-on class called the "Teen Driver Challenge," which takes place at the Lake Tech Institute of Public Safety Driving Range in Tavares.​

It's the same place where deputies and local law enforcement officers get their own driving training.

The aim of the program is to make sure teens ages 15 to 19 with six months of driving experience learn defensive and evasive driving maneuvers to prevent crashes.

The first four hours of the program is classroom instruction going over teen driving facts, seat belt safety, vehicle dynamics and the importance of not being a distracted driver. The silence is palpable when a video is shown on the effects of distracted driving and driving under the influence.

"There is one video that we show that shows a couple of lives that were decisions made by distracted drivers and drunk drivers. Where there lives have been pretty much destroyed and they are in a wheelchair or completely disfigured," Lake County sheriff's Lt. Michael Marden, who oversees the program, told News 6.

The message hit home with one of the students that News 6 spoke with.

"The seriousness of texting and driving that was the biggest one. It showed me how it can really effect your life. I saw a girl that it basically changed the whole way she lived. She doesn't have any hands any more all over texting and driving," student Aaron Alvarenga said.

After the classroom instruction is completed, students head home and come back for the hands-on portion of the class.

Deputies are equipping the teens behind the wheel with the skills for whatever they may experience on the road.

"We also teach them some dynamics of the vehicles and how important maintenance of the vehicle is such as tire pressure and stuff like that-- and how low tire pressure can impact responsive driving," Marden said.

Lake County is just one of the partners with the Florida Sheriffs Association to host the free class for up to 15 students.

Marden said what he and his colleagues are doing goes way beyond driving.

"Our goal is to positively impact their life by having a positive impact with law enforcement. But secondly, to
get in the car and show them little minute things that they can do. Things that they can do to drive their skills. So if they can drive out of here and more confident ... keep in mind we are not looking for over confident. But we are looking for confidence in controlling their vehicle; when they leave here our goal has been met. We just want them to be a little bit better than when they walked in the door," Marden said.

Each student that News 6 spoke with said the program helps them feel more confident on the road.

"It does get a little results, you get more confidence, you get to learn your car a bit better, they teach you how to change your oil, tire pressure, timing with bobbing and weaving, and a lot more key things you need to drive," Alvarenga said.

For more information on the Teen Driver Challenge and to find a program near you