Giving young drivers an inducement to be safe


August 14, 2005|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CAN STUDENT drivers drive safely? Lisa Morrow, president of Courtesy on the Road Inc., a nonprofit group that advocates that motorists of all ages drive more gently, thinks so. In support of this belief, the group is launching the Student Safe Driving Initiative/Parking Permit Programs at area high schools, beginning Aug. 17.

A key part of the program is the one-hour, safe-driving class that was developed in conjunction with the Howard County Police Department. Both the student who wants a parking permit for the high school and his or her parent must attend the class. After taking the class, both the parents and students sign promise cards and post campaign magnets on their vehicles that commit them to driving more courteously.

As representatives of Courtesy on the Road drive through the county and spot the magnet on the back of a car, the driver will be assessed for observing the posted speed limit, signaling and displaying other courteous driving behavior covered in the curriculum. The license plate number will be noted and students will receive prizes donated by local businesses -- including Orioles' tickets and merchandise.

"Our goal is to make new student drivers more aware of the importance of safe and courteous behavior on the road," Morrow said.

Representatives also will be scouting high school parking lots to note how many magnets are on students' cars. During the school year, the high school with the highest response will be given a party. As the campaign progresses, I will be reporting the numbers for the high schools in this column.

Morrow said she hopes to take the campaign nationwide eventually.

More about aggression

Bruce Whitney is one of many who responded to the aggressive-driver quiz, in which I asked a number of questions, including whether you get angry when other drivers do stupid things and whether you mutter obscenities under your breath (or say them out loud).

"Everyone would have to answer `Yes' to that, unless you're lobotomized or heavily sedated. And who doesn't [mutter obscenities]? That in and of itself doesn't make for an aggressive driver," he said. "It's only if you allow your anger/irritation to dictate your driving actions that you should worry."

But some survey results indicate that even these minor acts can escalate to serious road rage. Response Insurance Group of Companies sponsors a driving-habits survey, which, according to Mory Katz, the group's chairman and chief executive officer, is a scientific survey of drivers from around the country.

According to Katz, the survey supports the hypothesis in my last two columns -- that more of us are aggressive drivers than we would like to believe. "Our survey revealed that 37 percent of American drivers experienced road rage and that an equal number had committed an act within the prior six months," he said.

He said that men were more likely to engage in road rage than women (44 percent versus 30 percent), and the highest incidence is among youthful drivers. In the 18 to 34-year-old group, 50 percent had committed an act of road rage.

"Interestingly, drivers with children are more apt to engage in road rage than those without (44 percent versus 33 percent)," he said.

And it turns out that the quiz question about muttering obscenities is more relevant than many readers believed.

"Even minor acts of verbal aggression can escalate into something more serious," Katz cautioned. "Drivers need to take a deep breath and calm down before things get out of control. These survey results should be a wake-up call to all drivers."

Coping with tailgaters

Pete Nelsen suggests a safe response to tailgaters. A resident of Kent Island, he sees plenty of tailgating on the Bay Bridge. "There is nothing more stupid nor dangerous than tailgating on the Big Bay Bridge!" he said, noting that if an accident does happen, or a driver needs to swerve while driving the spans, there is no shoulder.

He recommends one of two safe options: "Swallow pride, bury ego, whatever you have to do and MOVE OVER. ... Let `Stupid One' pass."

But what if traffic is too heavy for you to move over? Then, he suggested, turn on your emergency flashers.

"I've done this for years, and it works every time: for Christy in her Cabrio, for Buck in his Big Wheel Oversized Tonka Toy Pickup Truck, for Eugene in his 18-wheeler. [It works] because they're baffled, unsure of what you're going to do -- which, of course, is nothing but to keep going, but they instinctively back off."

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia 21044. Include your full name, city, and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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