Schools tie responsible driving with parking permits

Program requires teens to attend safety seminar

August 26, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As she watched slide after slide of crumpled cars and read the horrifying statistics about teen drivers, Claudia Danner could not help but cringe. As the mother of a teen driver, she said, "You worry all the time."

Yet, painful as the experience was, she was glad to attend the safe-driving seminar at Centennial High School on Wednesday night with her son, Chris, 17. "I think it's good for him to see it," she said.

Chris, however, had a different perspective. "It's repetitive," he said. "I've seen almost the same video like three times."

He saw it during his driver education program, before the prom and before homecoming, he said.

Still, he conceded, "It's good, I guess. It kind of freaks you out."

The Danners were among about 350 parents and students attending the hourlong seminar at Centennial. This year, the county has implemented a systemwide program requiring high school students who want a parking permit to attend the safety class with a parent or guardian.

"The reason we're doing this is over the last four years we have realized we've lost 10 students and recent graduates to fatal motor vehicle collisions in the county," said Steve Drummond, security coordinator for the school system.

A committee of students, educators, safe-driving advocates and police got together to discuss how to improve the situation, he said.

"A number of meetings were held, and we decided the only control we had over students was the issue of parking permits," Drummond said. "We decided to tie the privilege of parking permits to the responsibility of attending a safety presentation."

Each of the public high schools in the county is holding at least two sessions, Drummond said.

At Centennial, school resource officer Mark Perry narrated the slides, most of which showed horribly damaged vehicles, the result of drunken, fast or irresponsible teen driving.

Some of the slides also discussed Maryland driving laws, noting, among other things, that starting Oct. 1 teen drivers are not allowed to use cell phones and can have only family members as passengers for the first 151 days after getting a provisional license.

`Very happy'

"To date, people are very happy about [the seminar]," Drummond said. "A number of parents have asked why this didn't happen in years past."

If the program goes well, it likely will be repeated next year, he said.

The presentation, sponsored by the Police Department, is called "You Are Responsible." A nonprofit group, Courtesy on the Road Inc., also distributed pamphlets and car magnets.

Member Kathleen Hinegardner said the group was sponsoring a contest among schools to encourage safe driving. Students were urged to put the magnets on their car, and if they were spotted "driving courteously," they would be sent coupons or gifts.

Seen it before

While parents at Centennial generally praised the presentation as yet another way to remind teens about the dangers of driving, students were more likely to say they had seen it all before and were attending only so they could get their parking permits.

"I think they're trying to brainwash us with the kind of images they showed," said 17-year-old Jimmy Kintner, standing in line to get his permit after the presentation.

At Centennial, seniors who had paid the $20 fee that is standard for student parking spaces countywide could simply pick up their permits after the presentation.

Juniors and their parents had to sign a certificate saying they had attended and that the certificate would be entered in a lottery for the remaining permits.

Jimmy's mother, Heidi Kintner, agreed that the message had been conveyed to her son, but she said there is nothing wrong with repeating it.

"It reinforces it," she said.

Upsetting

Seeing all the slides of local accidents in which teens had been injured or killed upset her, though.

"It's very scary," she said. "It's a little overwhelming right now, having seen all those pictures."

Many of the teens did not sit with their parents but heard after the presentation that the show had been terrifying to them.

"My mom's never going to let me drive again," Becca Vorel, 17, said to her friends. Actually, she amended, "she's going to, but still she gets scared. ... She said she was, like, covering her eyes."

Videos of real and re-created collisions were shown, along with slides of seriously damaged cars and even such grisly images as a piece of scalp inside a car.

More programs urged

"I think they should have more of these kinds of programs," said Cindy Herpst, mother of 16-year-old Jessica.

And Jessica agreed. She had seen some of it before, she said, but "this sort of added to it."

Centennial Principal Scott Pfeifer said he has buried four students because of car crashes in 16 years.

"Anything you can do to make it just a little more likely that kids will be safe drivers has got to be good," he said.

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