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Teen Driving Challenge

Suwannee County School Resource Officer Jacob Williamson offered guidance to a participant during the June 2 Teen Driving Challenge in Suwannee County. -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

By Jeffry Boatright

The Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office extended a challenge to young drivers of Suwannee County, and some of the county’s best driving teenagers enthusiastically met that challenge.

Spending their first Saturday of summer vacation, several teenage drivers assembled at Suwannee Elementary School early on the morning of June 2, to attend the Teen Driving Challenge, which Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office presents to promote highway safety.

Suwannee County is not alone in its quest to equip young drivers with more knowledge and experience. According to the Florida Sheriffs Association website, 34 counties across Florida offer the Teen Driving Challenge at no cost to teenage drivers. Drivers, however, are required to have a valid Florida Operator’s License or Learner’s Permit. Participating drivers are also required to have use of a vehicle they usually operate during the driving exercises.

The Teen Driving Challenge, which was created in 2007, is certainly a benefit to young drivers. According to SCSO Sergeant Lee Willis, 25 to 30 percent of teen drivers will have a traffic crash within the first 12 months of getting their operator’s license. “The Florida Sheriffs Association developed this program in an effort to prevent these kids from becoming a statistic,” Willis added. “One of the best incentives is to give these kids some hands-on experience in a controlled environment to help reduce their chance of being involved in a crash.”

Willis, who serves as SCSO school resource supervisor, was accompanied by school resource officers Brad Mincks and Jacob Williamson during the Teen Driving Challenge. It was indeed gratifying to watch the driving skills of each teen participant improve considerably throughout the day. Perhaps even more rewarding to observe was the camaraderie that developed among the SROs and students during the course.

“When the students get the opportunity to demonstrate what we’ve shown them, they get excited and start having a lot of fun,” Willis articulated, “even if their parents did make them come to the class.”

The course, which is a blend of classroom instruction and actual training in the driver’s seat, provides students with a wealth of knowledge and information. In addition to learning teen crash facts, participants gain knowledge of vehicles and vehicle dynamics. Of course, use of senses are discussed, along with drug and alcohol awareness, aggressive driving and road rage. Emergency braking, backing, cornering, off road recovery, and evasive maneuvers are taught in the course as well.

“It is the same driving course that law enforcement recruits go through, Willis explained. “Of course, the standards are much higher for the recruits.”

According to Willis, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission training manual for vehicle operations is used to set up the driving course. “Those exercises are taken right out of the book given to recruits,” he added.

“We plan to hold four to six of the classes each year,” Willis acknowledged, “possibly more, depending on the interest.”

The classes can be presented at no cost to the teens because of individual and corporate sponsorship. In fact, individuals or corporations may become Teen Driving Challenge Sponsors. Sponsorship information is available on the web at

“State Farm is the major corporate sponsor,” Willis said. “Their gift helps keep the classes free to teen drivers.”

Columbia County teens also have the opportunity to participate in the Teen Driving Challenge through courses presented by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

According to Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Sergeant Murray Smith, their first course was conducted on April 21. “We are very pleased to participate,” Smith stated. “Crashes are the greatest source of injuries to teens, so anything we can do to minimize their risk, we will gladly do,” he added.

According to Smith, the first class had great reviews and really provided additional excitement for the program. Looking forward to another Teen Driving Challenge in the fall, Smith explained that the CCSO plans to conduct the Teen Driving Challenge on a quarterly basis. “The plan is to conduct one quarterly, but as a minimum three times a year, he said.

Suwanee County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Wayne Musgrove observed a student driver during the June 2 Teen Driving Challenge in Live Oak. -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

Sergeant Lee Willis, School Resource Supervisor for the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office offered classroom instruction to participants during the June 2 Teen Driving Challenge, which was held at Suwannee Elementary School in Live Oak. -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright