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Officials Focus on Ways to Make Teen Driving Safer

March 17, 2005
County and school officials today announced an intensified effort to improve teen driver safety and prevent teen driving accidents. Expanded outreach to parents and students, stepped-up lobbying for legislation pending before the Maryland General Assembly, and increased enforcement activities are all part of a comprehensive campaign to address the dangers faced by inexperienced young drivers that was unveiled at James Hubert Blake High School.

New initiatives include a “Safe Teen Driving” web site and partnerships with GEICO and Comcast that will provide information to parents about how to help their teens drive safely.

“Teen driving accidents in Montgomery County have claimed far too many young lives in recent months, and we intend to do something about it,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. “Through education, enforcement, and legislation, we are going to be pushing hard to prevent further teen tragedies.”

New "Safe Teen Driving" Web Site

Officials launched a new county web site, the “Safe Teen Driving” site, which emphasizes the key role that parents play in ensuring the safety of the teen drivers in their family. The site is designed to provide parents and guardians with practical information that can assist them in guiding their children as they begin to take on the responsibilities of driving. The site can be accessed at www.montgomerycountymd.gov and is linked to the school system home page at www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org.

Partnerships with Geico and Comcast

GEICO has agreed to partner with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to develop an information packet for parents that will be distributed to high school families in the fall.

“The fact that nearly one-third of all teen deaths are due to auto crashes has to be addressed,” said Dave Pushman, GEICO regional vice president. “We’ve worked with many safety groups to develop vital information that may save lives and we want to put it in the hands of every family. GEICO is proud to join with Montgomery County in bringing this information to teenagers and parents.”

Comcast has agreed to air a series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) targeted to parents and produced by MCPS, as part of the company’s promotion of this critical safety issue.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our families, and we at Comcast are committed to working with our county government and our schools to ensure safe teen driving in Montgomery County and across the region,” said Craig A. Snedeker, area vice president and general manager of Comcast of Montgomery. “We have invested more than a million dollars in air time in this region to make sure this critical safety message reaches parents and teens so they take the right steps to be safe on the road.” As part of their focus on teen safety, Comcast has created bracelets with the Drive, Think, Live logo that have been distributed to high school students across the county.

“Even one teen driving death is one teen driving death too many,” said County Council President Tom Perez. “We can never do too much outreach and communication to spread the critical message of driving safety.”

State Legislation Supporting Safe Teen Driving

Mr. Duncan acknowledged the efforts of delegates Bill Bronrott and Adrienne Mandel in pushing for state legislation to mandate increased time for supervised learning for young drivers, a ban on teen cell phone use, and passenger restrictions.

“Passage of legislation to give our most novice drivers more behind-the-wheel experience with less potentially deadly distractions will surely save lives and will help parents lay down the law in their own homes to protect their children from this leading threat to their lives,” said Delegate Bill Bronrott (D-Montgomery County). “School-based education programs that reach out to teens and parents alike also will go a long way to instill safe driving attitudes that we all can live by and live with.”

"Take Control" Campaign on MCPS TV

New video productions by MCPS TV, part of a “Take Control” driver and parent education effort by the school system’s TV unit, are airing on Cable TV Channel 34 and will air on Comcast of Montgomery. Many of these productions also are linked to the new “Safe Teen Driving” web site. They include a new PSA produced with the help of students, called “Training Wheels,” and a call-in show for parents called “Viewpoint: Teen Driving & Taking Control.” Student-produced videos, a Viewpoint call-in show for students, and a roundtable conversation with Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill are among the resources that will be added to the site.

“I am pleased that county government and the school system, with the help of parents and business partners, are intensifying efforts to reach out to teen drivers,” said Mrs. O’Neill. “This is particularly important as we approach spring and the graduation and prom season.”

Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, emphasized the important role of schools in helping students understand the consequences of risky behavior. MCPS provides a one-semester course in comprehensive health education in Grade 10, when most students turn 16 and get a learner’s permit. The course focuses on the consequences of dangerous behavior, including unsafe driving.

MCPS also works with local law enforcement agencies to provide guest speakers in high school health education classes. Topics addressed include drinking and driving, seat belt use, and the results of taking unnecessary risks behind the wheel. This year, high school health education teachers are working with the Department of Police to schedule the Gator Aid driving simulation program that allows students to experience the sensory changes that alcohol produces.

Educational Facilities Officers (EFOs), uniformed police officers assigned to schools throughout the county, have been a great asset in providing driving safety information and support to students as part of their mission to increase communications with school communities.

“The school system is committed to helping students understand how important careful driving is to their safety and the safety of others,” said Dr. Weast. “We look forward to working with parents and other community partners in this critically important mission.”

Stepped-Up Law Enforcement

More intensive enforcement of seat belt and driving laws was cited by Police Chief Tom Manger as an essential ingredient in reducing accidents involving teenagers.

“We have all been deeply touched and saddened by the tragic deaths of teens due to preventable traffic collisions,” said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger. “We will continue to vigorously carry out enforcement efforts targeting the aggressive driving behaviors of teens, and we have specially-trained alcohol enforcement officers who respond to and conduct controlled dispersals of underage drinking parties. Because we would much prefer to help prevent these tragedies than to respond to them, we have partnered with Montgomery County Public Schools to conduct educational programs on risky teen behaviors.”

Beginning tonight, police will conduct a special St. Patrick’s Day alcohol enforcement that will be combined with enforcement targeting aggressive teen driving behaviors. The enforcement continues this weekend with a sobriety checkpoint on Friday night and a Saturation Patrol on Saturday night. The extra officers engaged in these enforcements will also target teen drivers.

Dr. Arturo Betancourt, father of Blake High School student Alicia Betancourt, who died last September as a passenger in a teen-driven car, spoke at the press conference and contributed information to the web site aimed at giving parents knowledge and tools to set boundaries for their student drivers. These resources include guidelines for parents and a sample driving contract that spells out appropriate privileges, limits, and consequences that parents can set. Perry Mullsteff, father of Sean Mullsteff, who died last April while driving, also spoke and talked about the foundation he and his wife have started in honor of their son. The Sean Mullsteff Teen Driving Foundation’s mission is to help prepare teenagers for a lifetime of safe driving. The foundation web site is www.teendrivingfoundation.org.

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