Mother pushes for 'Drivesafe' Aim is to monitor teen-age drivers

December 10, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

The "How-am-I-driving?" type of bumper stickers seen on many trucks would be stuck on the cars of teen-age drivers through a safety campaign being pushed by a Columbia mother of four.

Alicia Knothe has taken the teen-safety driving concept to the county police, a District Court judge, Howard County's school system and the PTA of her 16-year-old daughter's high school in Columbia hoping to spark interest. The police department has declined, and the judge and school system have not responded.

Florida origins

The idea stems from a program developed by a mental health counselor and psychologist in Orlando, Fla., and promoted by Drivesafe Inc., in nearby Winter Park.

It requires a teen driver to sign a contract with parents requiring use of the bumper sticker carrying a toll-free telephone number and asking: "Is this teen driving safely?"

Other motorists or bystanders can complain about erratic driving by calling the 800 number, and a report of the complaint is then sent to the teen-ager's parents.

The bumper-sticker project got off to a bumpy start when the Central Florida Safety Council canceled its sponsorship because insufficient parental interest.

"It is an excellent program, but it was not selling," said Shirley Cemoni, the four-county safety council's administrative officer.

"We did mail-outs to parents of teen-age drivers, and the response was not really good." She said the program was in effect about 90 days.

Drivesafe charges $25 for a packet that includes a parent-teen contract, the bumper sticker, a green ribbon that is tied to the steering wheel as a reminder, and a commitment by the company to notify parents of any driving complaints received through the toll-free line.

David F. Emerick Brown, the mental health counselor who is president of Drivesafe, said he spent two years developing the program. He said it has achieved only marginal acceptance in the three months since it began.

"There is no doubt it works," Mr. Brown said. "We checked with the trucking industry, and they are unanimous that it works. Knowing you are accountable and not anonymous, the program makes you think twice before you act."

Mrs. Knothe's 16-year-old daughter, Mickey, who is learning to drive a family van sporting the bumper sticker, supports the program.

Labor of love

"I think it is a good idea," Mickey said. "I don't like the way some kids drive too fast. I know I will definitely think twice before I speed or drive improperly. I told my mother that if I am late returning home, I will just accept that punishment because it will be better than having someone reporting me for speeding."

Her father, Ralph Knothe, a Rouse Co. employee, said he was self-conscious driving the van because of the bumper sticker.

"It makes you more conscious of driving," he said. "It makes you feel as if someone has their eyes on you."

The program "has nothing to do with trust or non-trust," said Mrs. Knothe, 38. "Inexperience is the issue. It is a way for a parent to say to their teen-ager: 'Your life is valuable to me. I love you.' I want the chance to talk with Mickey if she made a mistake driving rather than claim her body at the morgue."

Mrs. Knothe said she does not necessarily promote Drivesafe, but wants to see the state or some non-profit agency implement a similar program in Maryland.

"It has a lot of merit," said Sgt. Lee E. Goldman, a traffic supervisor with the Howard County police department. "I believe the program can give parents who feel antsy about their teen-agers going out with a car a feeling of having some control over the car. I am sure there will be kids who will have some initial resentment because they don't want this kind of attraction to their driving, but I think it could come to be accepted."

Susan P. Baker, a public health researcher at the Johns Hopkins Injury Prevention Center, said she was "optimistic it would help to some extent, and I would like to see it tried."

Tough road ahead

On a national basis, teen-agers comprise 10 percent of the population, but are responsible for 14 percent of all motor vehicle deaths, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va. Last year, 6,354 teen-agers died from motor vehicle accidents, the institute calculated.

"Our biggest problem with teen drivers is speed and other reckless activities," Sergeant Goldman said. "Kids have a sense of immortality. At the end of most school days, we have kids racing through residential communities surrounding high schools."

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