Teenage drivers in the spotlight

County school officials are considering denial of parking permits for poor driving records.

April 22, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials are considering a strict policy that could deny school parking permits to teenagers with blemishes on their driving records, part of a campaign to curb the number of teens killed in car accidents.

School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin will meet with Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay next week to discuss that idea, as well as a mandatory safety seminar for students wanting to drive to school and for their parents.

"We want a parking permit to be a privilege rather than a right, and for students to realize that there's responsibilities that go along with having one," Cousin said. "We're not considering this to be restrictive, but to promote safe driving."

The idea of revoking a permit for moving violations is still in its early stages. A countywide safety committee is cool to the idea because it would be difficult to manage.

But the effort comes as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., is poised to sign a package of bills that tighten restrictions on teen drivers, among them more behind-the-wheel training with an adult passenger and a ban, for the first five months of driving, on teens carrying passengers younger than 18 who are not relatives.

Student and parent reaction to creating systemwide parking standards and a safety seminar have been positive. However, both groups offered mixed opinions on the idea of revoking parking permits for unsafe driving behavior.

Support for the idea largely hinges on whether the punishment would be reserved for repeat offenders and serious violations.

"Threatening to take away a permit is not a carrot; it's a 2-by-4," said John McKitterick, parent of an Oakland Mills High School senior and president of the school's PTSA. "If a kid gets caught again, that shows he hasn't learned anything. Then, it's OK to come down on him with a 2-by-4."

Parking at Howard County high schools is at a premium. For instance, there are 412 students in River Hill High School's senior class, but only 325 parking spots.

Nationwide, principals rely on a broad range of criteria when awarding parking passes, including seniority, grade point averages, summer reading and participation in extracurricular activities.

But spokesmen for two national groups specializing in safety and school leadership said that they are unaware of any school district tying parking permits to driving records.

Although less severe than revoking a parking permit, simply requiring a class or standardizing the permitting process across all high schools would be notable in itself.

Carroll and Anne Arundel counties allow principals to adopt policies, and spokeswomen for the systems said they weren't aware of anyone requiring attendance at a safety seminar to get a parking pass. Generally, the fewer number of parking spaces available, the stricter the rules, officials said.

"We put a lot of energy into and worry over parking permits," said Mary Gables, director of high schools in Anne Arundel County. "And we have talked about getting principals together to take a look at our policies, so we will be interested in watching how Howard proceeds."

In Howard, some parents like the concept of a link between safe driving and parking privileges but want to move cautiously.

"We haul our children around for years, and then you get your relief," said Melody Higgins, president of Howard High's PTSA. "But you have to weigh whether your relief or their safety is more important. It's a hard choice, especially if you have kids who drive siblings places."

Higgins, whose 17-year-old daughter drives to school, wanted to know where the line would be drawn. She said it would be most fair to base the decision on the number of points on a student's license, but she wasn't sure how many points would justify losing the parking permit. Punishment for one speeding ticket, she said, should be out of the question.

Those decisions have not and may not ever be made; Cousin said linking driving records to parking permits is only one of many ideas on the table.

The idea will not be one of the Teen Driver Safety Committee's recommendations, a member said. Livesay and Cousin created the group, which recently completed its meetings, as part of the Police Department's "Arrive Alive" campaign.

"We discussed it, but the logistics of it are overwhelming," said Angela Ballard-Landers, president of River Hill High's PTSA. "We don't know who would have the resources to check possibly 4,000 driving records."

Ballard-Landers' son, Clarence Landers, 17, a senior at River Hill, also raised concerns about parental rights and students' privacy. He said his parents, not principals, should be responsible for punishing him for mistakes outside of school hours and off school grounds.

"That kind of policy would create some backlash ... mostly from parents who would have to drive their kids to school or be embarrassed by their kid losing a parking pass," he said.

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