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Driving safety event at Portland International Raceway gives teens hands-on learning in and out of the car

COURTESY PHOTO - Clackamas County Sheriff's Office deputies will drive with teens in the Drive With a Cop event in October. Carrie Higgins' life changed in 2014 after her 17-year-old daughter Maddi Higgins was killed in a single-car crash on Southwest Petes Mountain Road. But out of tragedy blossomed an event that Higgins helped bring to fruition, hoping it would prevent more teens from dying in car accidents.

The annual Drive With a Cop event Saturday, Oct. 5, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will draw licensed teens to Portland International Raceway for an educational driving safety event.

Youth will have one to two hours of drive time with Clackamas County Sheriff's Office deputies — who are also trained driving instructors — and they will have the opportunity to visit different stations outside the car that focuses on the dangers of impaired driving, speeding, distracted driving and more. Les Schwab Tire Center representatives will also be available to teach teens how to change a tire, put on chains and what to do if their car breaks down.

Kim Lippert, community relations specialist for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, says driving with cops helps ease the nerves some people might feel around law enforcement.

"It's a really fun environment to learn," Lippert said. "I think that our deputies have a lot of real world experience on the road and they see the devastating consequences of these teen crashes."

COURTESY PHOTO - Deputy Bryon O'Neil, crash reconstructionist for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, analyzes Maddi Higgins crash. Drive With a Cop began five years ago when Higgins decided she wanted to be proactive about educating teens about the dangers of driving.

She remembers the day she found out her daughter had been in a fatal car accident with 18-year-old Hayden Soyk. The vehicle struck a power pole, which sheared the car in half. Evidence at the scene and witness testimonials showed speed was a factor.

Higgins recalls running to her neighbor Dan Krause's home, who worked for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. Krause tracked the crash situation and stayed with the Higgins' family during the tragedy. Higgins said he put her in contact with Lippert, who connected her with Sheriff Craig Roberts and together they all brainstormed the idea to start Drive With a Cop.

Since car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Higgins wanted to have an event that focused on education and prevention, and she said she feels blessed the sheriff's office cared enough to bring Drive With a Cop to life.

"I knew something had to be done," Higgins said. "It's an epidemic killer of teens."

The event started at Grace Memorial Chapel in Wilsonville before growing and moving to Portland International Raceway.

Last year, the Medford Police Department attended the event and approached Higgins to see if she'd be interested in helping them start an event in Medford, which will happen at the end of October.

At the event, teens will go through a driving course where they will learn basic driving techniques, how to brake safely and make proper turns. Oregon Impact — a nonprofit organization that provides educational experiences to end impaired and distracted driving — will bring impaired goggles. Teens will walk through a course outside the car with the goggles to simulate what it would feel like to drive intoxicated.

"You really quickly how difficult it would be to PMG FILE PHOTO  - Ben Bernard of Oregon City concentrates as Deputy Ben Toops (not pictured) attempts to distract him duriing the Drive With a Cop event in 2017. drive impaired," Lippert said.

The Oregon Department of Transportation will host a parent session about how to help keep teen drivers safe on the road.

Also during the event, the crash reconstructionist for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, will present and analyze Maddi and Hayden's crash.

"I'm just a face. I'm a mom with a story," Higgins said, adding that she opens the event with a speech about what happened to her family. "It's really tough to get up there and speak but I feel very empowered … I'm doing this for my baby."

Higgins said she's carrying on her daughter's legacy, leaving her mark on the world, and she plans to continue helping save lives in her daughter's name.

Higgins is on the board at Oregon Impact and she gives educational speeches at schools to spread awareness. Higgins hopes the Drive With a Cop event will eventually spread throughout the nation.

"I believe it's helping," she said. "It's incredible. It's evolving into a really neat safety event."

The event is free and spaces are limited to the first 100 people who register. To register, visit

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