Getting a driver’s license is one of the first freedoms a teenager gets to experience.
However, that privilege can often be a dangerous one, particularly during the summer months, said Marcus Isakson, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office deputy and school resource officer for the Hill City School District.
“We have a really low driving age,” Isakson said. “In other states, they get their driver’s license two years later at age 16, so they have an extra two years to mature.”
One area where law enforcement is vigilant, Isakson said, is in regards to teen drinking and driving.
The sheriff’s office takes teen drinking and driving very seriously, he said, and there is extra funding from the state to ensure there are extra patrols, called saturation patrols, to look out for not just teen drunk drivers but drunk drivers in general.
It also does saturation patrols to look for seatbelt compliance.
There are several times of the year where there tend to be more teen drunk drivers — and drunk drivers in general — on the road, Isakson said. Those are Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and New Year’s Eve.
The sheriff’s office does not do only checkpoints. Isakson said it often patrols a stretch of road looking for impaired drivers.
“We’ll take a five mile stretch and just patrol it,” he said. “When you are in the academy you have an entire week dedicated to DUIs.”
There are two areas where it is non-negotiable to charge someone in the state of South Dakota: domestic violence and drunk driving, Isakson said.
The law, he said, says if someone is impaired, they must be taken into custody.
However, there are four areas where the sheriff’s office directly impacts teen driving in and around Hill City.
The first is a program through the Boys and Girls Club last summer where Isakson was invited to speak. The program, Isakson said, goes for a week and focuses on teen driver safety.
“I came in to give the law enforcement point of view with nuts and bolts of everything,” Isakson said. “I knew most of the students, and that started a dialogue to come to me with questions.”
The program at the Boys and Girls Club is good for teen drivers because it teaches them a lot, Isakson said, stopping just short of putting them in a car.
Because there are not a lot of driver’s education classes in the area, Isakson said something like this is valuable to teen drivers so they learn not only the rules of the road but also how to drive safely.
The second area where the sheriff’s department helps make teen driving safer is through a program called “freshman impact.”
Every year, Isakson said, freshmen classes from around the area are taken to Crazy Horse Memorial and go through classes and demonstrations on how to be a safer, better driver.
The event culminates with a mock accident, typically simulating a driving while intoxicated situation.
The mock accidents can be intense, Isakson said, with a situation presented beforehand featuring issues such as underage drinking followed by an accident where law enforcement officers and other first responders come to the scene to help the “victim,” who dies.
At the end, there is a mock funeral to show the real life consequences of drinking while driving.
The third area where the sheriff’s office impacts teen driving is through heavy school zone saturation.
“We have a huge presence at the beginning of the year,” Isakson said. “We will stop anyone speeding.”
There are two units at the school here, he said, and the enforcement of the school zone continues throughout the year.
The final area where the sheriff’s department impacts teen driving is the relationship Isakson has as the school district’s school resource officer.
“There were a couple of things they wanted to accomplish by bringing me in,” he said. “One is to make sure teenage drivers are knowledgeable, and they wanted met to talk to them about how their driving experience is going and their need to be safe when driving with friends.”
The right to drive a vehicle is like the right to own a firearm, he said. The right needs to be treated with respect.
In fact, Isakson said, driving a car is more dangerous than possessing a firearm because more crashes occur when driving than accidents with a firearm.
“The major thing with having a car is that teenagers need to be responsible,” Isakson said. “They need to be responsible and be able to multi-task.”