Bradford County deputies challenge teen drivers

Student drivers learn how to handle bad scenarios


STARKE, Fla. – Thousands of teens die in car crashes nationwide each year, the No. 1 killer of teens in the U.S. Many more are injured.

The Northeast Florida area has seen a number of tragedies over the years, and with school about to let out and more teen drivers on the road, the Bradford County Sheriff's Office has teamed up with school officials to teach young people real-life skills -- in real cars on a real course. It's called the Teen Driver Challenge.

Deputies are trying to teach teen drivers how to handle bad scenarios on the road. One of those would be if they were to lose control and spin around.

A group of drivers in training loaded into cars with deputies specially trained in teaching safety to discover the hazards of the road and how to deal with them.

"What a lot of us learn as we go through police academy, this is a scaled down version of that," said Lt. George Konkel. "With cutbacks and some of the scaled down driving programs that we have nowadays, a lot of times they are just driving computers in the class. They just have an electronic steering wheel."

The program, started by the Florida Sheriff's Association, is paid for with grants and one of the vehicles used was seized from a drug dealer. Bradford deputies have been running it locally for years, but this year integrated it with the school system during school hours.

Teens learned how to safely swerve if someone or something hops out into the road, part of being a defensive driver.

They got to feel what it's like to spin out of control. And while it was a fun experience for the tees, they haven't forgotten driving is not a joke.

Years ago, Bradford County was ranked among the worst Florida counties for teen driving deaths, losing five high school students in 2010. The dangers are very real.

Researchers say crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for 15 to 19-year-olds. They say the fatality rate for teen drivers is four times that of older drivers. And teens are 12 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than any others.

They're statistics deputies and teachers are trying to change one teen at a time.

The program is also being offered to student drivers in surrounding county. To apply, go the the Bradford County Sheriff's Office's website or call 904-966-2276.