Lakewood Ranch Herald

Manatee Boys & Girls Clubs, Sheriff's Office team up on program

MANATEE -- The picture Jean Shoemaker painted of a teenager on the day they get a driver's license may resonate with a lot of parents.

"They think they're going to walk out and there's a car in the driveway with a big red bow and a happy birthday card," said the Safe Kids Coordinator at All Childrens Hospital in Tampa.

There's a tad more to it.

That was part of the message of Countdown2Drive, held Sept. 6 at the Palmetto Boys & Girls Club. It is a web-based program designed to bring parents and young teens together to talk about the key safety issues teens will face when riding as a passenger or as they prepare to drive.

Plans are to hold it quarterly around Manatee County in conjunction the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, Suncoast Safe Kids and All Children's Hospital.

"Countdown2Drive is aimed at 13- to 14-year-olds because these young teens are more likely to be riding with older teens who have newly gotten their license," Shoemaker said. "Both driving and riding in cars, especially with an inexperienced driver at the wheel, is risky for teenagers. We are trying to teach them habits to help keep them safe as passengers that they will continue to use when they become the driver."

There were 20 teens and parents at the first Countdown2Drive and among the talking points were:

n Insurance: Who pays? How much will it increase?

n Consequences and rewards: Driving is a privilege.

n Maintenance: A car is not a one-time cost.

n Texting and driving: A definite issue for teens -- and drivers in general.

"This is one way a young teen as a passenger begins to understand the responsibility of being behind the wheel," said Kristin Heintz, a Boys & Girls Club official. "They know or are aware the driver shouldn't be texting."

By participating in Countdown2Drive, teens and parents created a customizable passenger agreement that walks parents and their teen through setting commitments, rules, rewards for the teen as well as penalties as teens create safe passenger habits.

The agreement gives the teen a chance to earn trust and can help parents worry less when they are not there to supervise.

"We want to be a platform to educating teens how to behave and what are the good and bad things that can happen being a passenger in the car and driver eventually," Heintz said.

For information, call 761-2582, ext. 108. Or visit

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter:@vinmannix