New driving safety bills target teenagers on the road
In the latest of a series of state and local initiatives intended to increase driving safety, MCPS and the American Automobile Association held the first of four Drive to Survive classes at Blair on Feb. 23.
The Drive to Survive class, a 2.5-hour session starting at 7 p.m., focused on the involvement of parents in teens' driving education, said MCPS Adult Education Specialist Martha Price. On Feb. 23, thirty parents and teenagers engaged in instruction designed to help them choose a driving school, learn to drive after getting a license, avoid deaths on the highway and increase general awareness.
There will be three more classes at Northwest, Walter Johnson and Sherwood high schools on March 19, April 5 and April 16, respectively. These classes will be identical to the Blair class held on Feb. 23 to ensure that all students in the county have the opportunity to be exposed to the same information.
Price formulated the plan for the program with her colleagues last fall in the aftermath of several accidents that claimed the lives of at least 18 teenagers in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. "We were just tossing ideas around, saying, 'What can we do?'” said Price. "I thought it'd be great to do something like driver's ed.”
While Price hopes that driver's education is instituted in schools, she said that MCPS will wait to consider expanding on the Drive to Survive sessions. "If we revise anything with this program, it will be next fall,” she said. "This is still very exploratory.”
Sophomore John Conroy said that the information presented in the class was helpful. "It's very informative,” he said. "The statistics on driving deaths really got my attention.” Conroy acknowledged, however, that limited access to the program - classes are limited to 15 parent-student pairs - curtails its effectiveness.
Springbrook High School parent Ondine Doore, who also attended the meeting, said that the session was only a preliminary step in preventing vehicle accidents. "It's a start, but it's not the absolute [solution],” she said.
Price agreed with Doore, adding that the upcoming sessions will be revised to include more interaction between parents and the instructor.
The program is among the most recent efforts of politicians in the region to increase driving safety. Maryland State Delegates Bill Bronrott and Adrienne Mandel have spearheaded many driving safety initiatives since 1998 and are at the forefront of the three new bills that were approved by the Transportation Subcommittee on Feb. 23. These bills would restrict the number of teenage passengers allowed for the first six months after a driver has earned his or her provisional license, prohibit the use of cell phones while driving during the provisional period and increase the number of required driving hours from 40 to 60. The Environmental Matters Committee will vote on the bills, and if they gain a favorable vote, they will be considered by the full House of Delegates.
Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich proposed three separate driving safety measures on Jan. 25 that would increase the permit period from four to six months, add a 90-day license suspension for provisional drivers who violate seatbelt and curfew laws and revoke the licenses of drivers under 21 years of age convicted of driving under the influence until they are 21.
Bronrott, who supports Ehrlich's proposals, said that he would like to see driver's education reinstituted in schools. "There are questions about the effectiveness of [current] driver's education,” he said. "If I had my way, I would prefer to see it back in schools, but it's up to the school systems. Every time it's been brought up, it's been rejected by almost every superintendent in Maryland.”
Administrator Linda Wanner said that this rejection is most likely due to a lack of funds and a shift in curriculum. "Schools were asked to do more academics, and they moved away from vocational training,” she said.
Driver's safety awareness has increased since last fall. "The recent rash of teen driving deaths has been a huge wake-up-call,” said Bronrott.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Goodman
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