Calendar produced by local group is designed to help keep teens safe 2nd annual publication focuses on supervision

January 25, 1996|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If parents want to reduce the chance of their children dying in car accidents, they must increase supervision, residents and community leaders in western Howard County say.

The Western Howard County Coalition -- formed by parents, teen-agers, school staff and representatives of the Howard County Board of Education and Police Department -- has released its second annual calendar, filled with tips designed to keep youths on the straight and narrow.

The calendar recommends actions some parents might find surprising, such as regularly searching a teen-ager's room or car.

"You owe your child your oversight more than you owe them your unquestioning confidence," says the calendar, which includes information from an array of health agencies, community organizations and coalition members.

The coalition also is preparing for its March 4 town meeting, at which representatives from drug- and alcohol-abuse agencies will be available to talk to parents and students about legal accountability.

For instance, some adults don't know that they can be legally responsible for alcohol-related accidents involving minors served alcohol on their property.

June is dedicated to how parents can responsibly hold parties for youths. The coalition advises parents to check the coats and purses of all youths who enter the house. And once young people leave, they shouldn't be readmitted, because they could be sneaking a drink outside.

The group is trying to create a parent support network. "Parents don't get enough information, and they have a lot of questions when faced with information only from their child," said Eileen Woodbury, school board representative to the coalition.

An Eastern Howard County Coalition also formed last year, and the two groups share the concern of underage drinking and driving.

The Board of Education reports that 26 percent of county 12th-graders admit to driving while intoxicated; 35 percent say they have ridden in a car while the driver was intoxicated.

Although accidents are the top cause of death among teens and some teens drink and drive, only 10 percent of the accidents among 16-year-olds nationally are linked to alcohol, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Speed and inexperience are bigger factors in fatal wrecks.

And in western Howard County, winding country roads are an extra challenge to student drivers, said Sue Smith, a western coalition member from Woodbine.

Seven Glenelg High School students have died in auto accidents since 1988, more than at any county high school.

Parents need to understand that their teens are inexperienced drivers and should take whatever precautions necessary, coalition members said -- even if that means watching them buckle up each time before driving away from home, said Dr. Alfredo Herrera, an Ellicott City pediatrician.

His son, Christian, a 16-year-old Glenelg student, died in December 1994 when his Ford Explorer crashed and threw him through the window in a one-vehicle accident on Route 32. He had been drinking and wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Now, Dr. Herrera talks to parents and teens at Glenelg High in a safe driving education course he worked to create.

"Make sure you see [your child] putting on the seat belt," he said. "Make sure you tell him, 'Johnny, put it on. Wear it not only for yourself, but wear it for me. I don't want to be left here without you.' "

The coalition also is trying to encourage community groups to sponsor after-school activities for middle school youths. "That's a common complaint, particularly in western Howard County -- that there's nothing to do," said Howard County police Lt. Daniel Davis, a coalition member.

After-school activities for middle-schoolers recently were cut from the budget, leaving many youths with nothing to do and no supervision. Middle school parents worried about their children experimenting with inhalants was an original concern when the coalition formed three years ago, Mrs. Smith said.

If the group can get middle-schoolers interested in attending supervised activities when they're young, she said, the students will be in the habit of attending supervised activities when they're in high school.

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