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Annual event at PIR aims to improve the driving abilities and decision-making skills of young motorists

REVIEW PHOTO: SAM STITES - Ben Bernard of Oregon City concentrates as Deputy Ben Toops (not pictured) attempts to distract him during the Drive With a Cop event at Portland International Raceway on Saturday.REVIEW PHOTO: SAM STITES - Michael Stell of West Linn poses for a photo with Deputy Bryon ONeill after hearing a presentation about the dangers of driving at high speeds. Young drivers from communities across Clackamas County gathered Saturday at Portland International Raceway for the third-annual "Drive With a Cop," where licensed teens get the opportunity to learn from Clackamas County Sheriff's deputies who are also trained driving instructors.

Despite record-setting rain, more than 50 teens and dozens of parents showed up to gain useful experience and knowledge designed to help them sharpen their decision-making skills and create safe driving habits.

"Each and every year, this program has grown, and it's great because it brings together a lot of different groups like Oregon Impact, the Oregon State Sheriff's Association and State Farm Insurance," said Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts. "This is really having a dramatic impact on our youth. One of the key things to me is that we're teaching the same tactics, such as collision avoidance, that we teach our law enforcement officers."

Teens were paired with deputies from Clackamas County and law enforcement agencies from across the state, some from as far away as Boardman in eastern Oregon. Officials setup courses on the PIR track, where drivers could practice basic skills such as reversing in tight spaces, braking at high speed and avoiding objects.

Mock traffic stops provided tips on how to amicably interact with police should the young drivers get pulled over.

REVIEW PHOTO: SAM STITES - Dozens of teen drivers are directed to the start of an obstacle course created by the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office to test their basic skills and techniques. "Today we're talking about basic things like path of travel, how to position your car in the lane and where the safest place to take your car is during an emergency," said Deputy Ben Toops. "One of the exercises we're doing today is the in-line weave, which helps us demonstrate to the driver how to keep their eyes up and to look past the cone they're at to decide where they're going to take the car."

In addition to the driving lessons, teens and parents were able to attend several workshops and presentations. Deputy Bryon O'Neill, an evidence technician and crash reconstructionist, talked about the dangers of driving at high speeds. Dr. Amy Stoeber, a child and adolescent psychologist, made an extremely powerful presentation to parents about handling teen emotions and creating open communication with their children.

Distracted driving was also a huge part of Saturday's course, given Oregon's new law that prohibits using handheld devices of any kind while driving. After running teens through the driving course a couple of times, Toops and other instructors made a point of trying to distract teens while they were driving by asking them about a text message on their phone, fiddling with the radio or pointing their attention away from the road.

"It's very instructional, and you really learn a lot of tips on how to be safer while you're on the road," said Michael Stell of West Linn. "Distracted driving has been huge today. It's really eye-opening how serious of an issue it is."

Roberts said the other positive benefit of Saturday's "Drive With a Cop" was that teens got the opportunity to have a conversation with law enforcement officials in an informal setting about things like distracted driving, the danger of high speeds and how teen fatalities can affect first responders personally.

"When you respond to a teenage fatality, it will impact you in law enforcement for the rest of your life. It messes you up having to tell parents their child was killed in a car crash," Roberts said. "Our goal is to get ahead of that, and if we save one life, we've made a difference, and we are making that difference. Seeing youth leave this event, it's inspiring to hear, by their own admission, that they've taken these tips to heart and slowed down dramatically because of what they learned here."

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Sam Stites at 503-636-1281 ext. 101 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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