Driving Class Puts Teen Violators Back On Safety Road

March 03, 1991|By Terrie Snyder | Terrie Snyder,Contributing writer

A driver education program aimed at teens charged with their first driving violations has been so successful in its first year in Harfordand Cecil counties that state police plan to begin expanding it statewide.

The program will expand to Allegheny and Queen Anne's counties immediately. Other counties will add the program when their courts and police are prepared to handle it, state police said.

Under the program, called Drive to Survive, judges have the option of sentencing offenders, ages 16 to 20, to attend a one-time two-hour driver education class given by state police instead of fining guilty drivers for an offense.

Of the 531 teens sentenced to attend the class by Harford District Court judges between March 1990 and lastweek, only two drivers were ticketed again for driving offenses after they completed the course, state police said.

Those repeat offenders were ordered to take the class again, police said.

But District Court Judge John S. Landbeck, administrative judge in Harford, said in the future second chances won't be given to teens who complete the course and later are charged with driving offenses. They'll be fined and assessed points on their driving records, said Landbeck.

Police did not have a breakdown of the various offenses those in the Drive to Survive program were found guilty of. They did say however that a majority of the offenses were speeding.

That's why they have launched a new speed enforcement program, called Project Intercept, state police said.

Project Intercept will target teen drivers exceeding the 55-mph speed limit on interstate highways, said Chuck Jackson, state police spokesman.

If they're caught violating the law, judges in counties that set up the Drive to Survive program can order the driver to attend a class that educates them on the dangers of driving too fast and other careless driving habits.

The Drive to Survive class includes a two-hour lecture given by a state trooper to first-time offenders.

The main goals of the program are to change youngdrivers' attitudes and to teach them to drive defensively.

Tfc. Michael Mullin, stationed at the Benson Barracks, teaches the classes.He says he wants the kids on the road to "treat people the way you want them to treat you."

Capt. Raymond Cotton, commander of the Harford and Cecil County State Police barracks, came up with the idea for the program.

He said he wanted to start a driver education program that focused on reminding young drivers about some of the driving skills they may have forgotten from their driver's ed classes.

Most of the class focuses on changing attitudes, stressing the importance of wearing seat belts, the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and speeding.

Mullin shows several short films on accidents. The films do not include the gory scenes used in some Motor Vehicle Administration driver education classes of the past.

Some Drive to Survive class graduates, though, think police might want to include such "shock tactics" in the class.

"The more graphic it is, the better it will make people think," says Jennifer Swift, 18, of Bel Air.

Swift, 18, took the course last month. Early last fall, she got a ticket for traveling 51 in a 30-mph zone in Bel Air.

Since it was her first traffic ticket, she received probation beforejudgment and was ordered by the judge to take the class. "I thought it was very informative. I learned a lot of important things," she said.

Swift says a lot of what she learned were skills she had forgotten from her driver's education class. She thinks a lot of students in driver's ed don't go there to learn anything.

"They're just there to get on the road," she said.

County budget cuts forced the elimination of driver's ed from the schools and put it in the hands of private companies nearly a decade ago.

That change may be part of the reason some young drivers wind up in front of the court for traffic violations, Harford police and judges say.

Landbeck gives the Drive to Survive program high marks. He said he attended one class andleft impressed with the content of the course and the students' new attitudes about driving.

"One kid was there who was going 30 miles-an-hour over the speed limit. He recognized me. He came over and said 'I'm really glad you gave me the opportunity to come here. What I did was really stupid. I'll never do that again.'

"By and large, the questions that were asked showed they were really paying attention," he said.

Harford judges have been so impressed with the program,they are filling the classes to capacity, said police. The class is taught every other Thursday night. But that schedule may be changed to once a week to accommodate all the teen-agers who are sentenced to attend it.

Landbeck thinks the program is better suited to young drivers than the MVA's Driver Improvement Program.

The MVA program covers a wide amount of material during eight hours of instruction. Also, the MVA program is aimed at repeat offenders, not at the teen first-time offender, said Bob Grove, with the MVA's driver improvement and alcohol education program.

Landbeck notes the MVA program has a long waiting list and costs $65 -- money he says a teen may not have.

The Drive to Survive class is free. Cotton says it was designedas a low-cost alternative -- and best of all appears effective.

Landbeck hopes the program will prove to be a success for the future.

"If we get 30 kids in there and we get 20 of them that go out . . . and don't get another ticket for five years, we've done something positive."

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