Target Zero: A message to teen drivers, and their parents

Ashley ‘Ash’ Kinlaw of the Battle Ground Police Department, is helping Target Zero get the word out this month to emphasize safe driving habits to teen drivers. Photo by Paul Valencia
Ashley ‘Ash’ Kinlaw of the Battle Ground Police Department, is helping Target Zero get the word out this month to emphasize safe driving habits to teen drivers. Photo by Paul Valencia

Target Zero’s emphasis in June is the education of teen drivers

Paul Valencia

He is a professional behind the wheel, professionally trained to travel fast in emergencies.

He is so proficient, he has now been certified as an emergency vehicle operations instructor.

Through years of instruction, and experience on the roadways, Battle Ground Police Officer Ashley “Ash” Kinlaw knows the importance of fundamentals and safety while driving.

The training that officers receive “reiterates and emphasizes all the things that are important about driving, things that people take for granted or get too comfortable behind the wheel,” Kinlaw said.

For Kinlaw, that recognition allows him to become an educator when he is on patrol.

“With young people, they tend to drive above their ability,” Kinlaw said. “They neglect or disregard the speed limit. They think, ‘I can talk on the cell phone and be fine.’”

No. That is not how it works, Kinlaw said.

He and members of law enforcement want to get the word out to young drivers — all drivers really — about safe driving habits.

June is all about educating teen drivers and their parents in Target Zero’s campaign. Target Zero is a statewide campaign with a mission to have zero deaths on state highways and roads by 2030. 

When Kinlaw pulls over a young driver for a mistake, it is not an automatic citation. Kinlaw said officers have discretion. 

“A lot of times we can talk somebody through something,” Kinlaw said. “Hopefully they can see the error of their ways, and hopefully that brings corrections.”

A conversation can go a long way. The police are not there to jack up a driver’s insurance rates. The police are there in an effort to make things safe for everybody.

Kinlaw has a pretty direct pitch he gives to young drivers.

“Take this time to learn good driving habits. Establish behaviors that carry on to your adult life. Set standards for yourself. Set goals. ‘I want to be safe on the road,’” Kinlaw said. 

And he reminds drivers of the consequences of bad habits.

“The last thing you want is for somebody else’s injury or life to be on your hands,” Kinlaw said. “If you’re on your cell phone, or you’re not paying attention, or you’re going 10 miles over the speed limit and hit somebody, and their life is impacted forever because of it, that’s not a weight you need to carry. It’s better to slow down. Get there safely.”

For some young drivers, this will be their first summer with a driver’s license. This might be the first time they are consistently out on the roads at night, too. Experience does matter, and many young drivers do not yet have a lot of experience. The best advice for them, Kinlaw said, is to follow the laws at all times, including speed limits.

Kinlaw got into law enforcement later than many of his colleagues. He was 30 when he joined a force. Before then, he had worked as an outreach leader for at-risk youth and young adults, people needing help getting on their feet. Kinlaw said he, too, came from a broken home situation, and he was helped.

Naturally, he wanted to give back. Then he felt a calling into law enforcement, maintaining that instinct to help others. 

He joined the Delmar Police Department in Maryland, where he used to live. That department is one of the few dual-state departments because the city of Delmar is on the border of Maryland and Delaware. 

Eventually, other family members moved to Washington. Kinlaw and his family followed. He was looking for a department that was similar to his in Maryland, and he said Battle Ground was the right fit. 

He recalled landing at PDX and being driven over the I-205 bridge, going to Washington for the first time in his life.

“I looked over and saw Mount Hood. I said, ‘Yeah, I can live here.’ Since then, we’ve been very happy,” Kinlaw said. “We made the right move.”

He has been with the Battle Ground Police Department for the past three years.

“Most of us who got into this job, we got into this job because we wanted to make a difference,” Kinlaw said. “We hope that we are doing that.”

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