Trooper Michael Pry Finds A Way to Reduce Teen Driver Collisions

Michael Pry

Michael Pry first thought of going into law enforcement while he was a teenager. “My next-door neighbor, when I was growing up in Lacey, was a police officer, and took me on a ride-a-long.”

Something clicked, and today Pry is a trooper in the Washington State Patrol, based in Lewis County. Hooked on patrolling the roads as a teen, this past year he returned to his roots and turned his focus to helping teens be safer drivers. His efforts have been successful, leading to a decline in teen driver-involved collisions in Lewis County by 19 percent.

“I was on patrol one day after responding to several collisions involving teen drivers,” Pry recalls. “I wondered how we might focus on reducing collisions. I remembered back in high school the first place I drove was to and from school. So I thought if we can just work in school zones we might be able to identify problem teen driving behaviors, before they crash.”

Trooper Pry pitched the idea of adding focused patrols in school zones before and after school to his chain of command, who gave the go-ahead. With Lewis County stretching over 2,400 square miles and comprised of 11 school districts, Pry knew he couldn’t go it alone. He contacted county schools, and recruited city law enforcement agencies throughout the county, as well as the sheriff’s office, to participate. “We had four or five agencies all working together throughout the school year,” he says.

“We’d go to the school zones and patrol, looking for all the same violations we normally do, like speed, cell phones, seat belts. We’d pull them over and give them a written warning. And we’d give them a couple of days to take that home and show their parents, and make their parents call our office and say that they know their child was stopped, and say what they were going to do to correct the problem.”

The parents addressed their problem teen drivers in different ways. “A lot of them would take the keys only for a week. Or some had a long chat about safe driving. I know a couple of them called in to say their child got grounded.”

Pry emphasizes the program wasn’t about giving tickets or a fine – but to get the teens to go home and talk to their parents about their driving. “The students go home and say ‘hey, I got stopped. This is what happened.’ And then the parents figure out what they want to do or what they think is the right course of action. I figured it’s better to just let the parents parent.”

Pry said the most effective thing parents can do to instill safe driving habits in their teens is drive safely themselves. “Parents need to display the behaviors they want their kids to use. When teens see their parents driving faster than the speed limit, or not wearing their seatbelt, or using their phone, they pick up on that and do the same things. They’re watching. And they’re going to think that whatever you’re doing is ok.”

Pry also suggests parents ride with their kids after they get their license. “Every once in a while, you might want to ride with your teen and see what they’re doing.”

During the school year Pry estimates that officers made nearly 300 stops county-wide. During the school year in Lewis County, collisions decreased 19 percent over the previous year. Over the summertime, collisions dropped 10 percent. For the first time since 2014 collisions involving teen drivers dropped below 150.

“I think it definitely made a difference,” Pry says.