Monitor Program Keeps An Eye On Teen Drivers

March 15, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

On Jan. 10, 17-year-old Mike Brady of Abingdon was killed after the car he was driving crashed into a tree near Bel Air. Four teen-age passengers were injured in the accident, one seriously. Police said Brady was speeding.

About a month later, on Valentine's Day, driver Chad D. Sullivan, 17, and his 15-year-old girlfriend, Kimberly A. Lester, both of Edgewood, were killed when their car struck a utility pole on Route 136 in Churchville. Sullivan was driving too fast for the wet roadway, police said.

On Monday evening, Robert Walls Jr., 17, of Abingdon, and Kevin Poznaniak, 15, of Edgewood, were killed after Walls pulled his car into the path of her car on U.S. 40 in Abingdon, police said. Three passengers were injured.

Brady, Sullivan and Walls, according to police, were not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They simply made mistakes, ones that cost them their lives.

To Alicia Knothe, these accidents are examples of teen-age motorists who don't haveenough driving experience to make solid calls when behind the wheel.

But the 38-year-old Howard County woman has what she hopes is a solution to prevent similar accidents. It's a program called Drivesafe, designed to monitor teen drivers before they make fatal mistakes.

Knothe has been working for six months to get the Drivesafe programstarted in her home county. Now, she is extending her efforts to Harford and other Maryland counties.

"It's inexperience that is killing a lot of these teens," the Columbia mother of four said. "It's just accident after accident. Maybe they could be prevented."

In Harford, Knothe has sent letters to school and county administrators, police departments and Mothers Against Drunk Driving members to generateinterest in Drivesafe.

"Now that Harford County is hurting, maybeit's the time to say there's an alternative," said Knothe, referringto the recent accidents.

Harford officials, including the county Highway Safety Committee, are looking into Drivesafe. The committee wants to see how the program works in other areas before adopting it, said Jeffrey Stratmeyer, the county's chief of traffic operations anda member of the committee.

A total of 6,354 teens were killed in traffic accidents nationwide in 1990, the last year with available statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In Harford,one teen-age motorist was killed in a traffic accident in 1990, and two died last year, according to state police statistics.

"I'm in favor of anything that saves lives," said Wesley J. Picha, a sergeantat the county Sheriff's Office and a committee member. "Hopefully, other kids are learning by these accidents. It's tough seeing your friends get killed."

In Drivesafe, started in Florida last year, parents pay $25 to enter the program. Teen-age drivers sign contract requiring them to use bumper stickers carrying a toll-free telephone number and asking: "Is this teen driving safely?"

Other motorists or bystanders can report erratic driving by calling the number listed on the bumper sticker. A report of the complaint is then sent to the teen-ager's parents.

Knothe says teens will be encouraged to drive better if they know they are being watched. The program also should getparents to spend more time to improve their child's driving skills, she said.

Knothe and her husband, Ralph, have a Drivesafe bumper sticker on their family van, which is driven by their 17-year-old daughter, Mickey.

To make Drivesafe attractive to parents and teen-agers, Knothe suggests that participants receive a 5 percent discount oninsurance.

Knothe believes the driver education courses taken by teen-agers are only enough to teach youths how to get their driver's licenses. More, she said, must be done to make sure youths make the right move when on the roads.

"It's hard to send your kid out thereon a wing and a prayer," she said. "That's a battlefield."

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