Howard County offers safe driving programs for teens

Here's something for Maryland drivers younger than 18 to consider: Did you know that because your parents sign a consent form allowing you to obtain a license, they can also have your license revoked by withdrawing that consent?

"I knew that," said Ally Dickstein, a junior at Mount Hebron School, who recently attended a safe-driving presentation with her mother, Debby, at Glenelg High School. Howard County students must attend the presentation with their parents to obtain school parking passes.


The presentation, which is also slated for Monday at Howard High School, informs students and parents about the dangers of teenage driving and how parents can help to ensure their children's safety on the road.

The presentation includes a short film that shows footage and accounts of teen accidents — including some that ended in fatalities — that occurred in Howard County, and includes testimony from parents who have lost children in crashes.


It also offers some sobering facts about teenage driving: Teens tend to take more risks than other motorists when driving. They're more likely than other drivers to text while behind the wheel and exceed the speed limit. And most teen deaths in motor vehicle crashes occur between 3 p.m. and midnight.

The recent presentation also reminded parents that they can encourage safe driving among their children by practicing safe driving themselves.

Debby Dickstein, Ally's mother, was among parents who did not know they could request that the state revoke their children's licenses, a fact mentioned during the presentation.

"She didn't tell me that," Debby said of Ally. "She kept that to herself."


"I took driver's ed," Ally said, "and one of the questions on my final exam was, 'Can your parents take your license away?' I got that one wrong, because I didn't know they could."

But Steve Willingham, Glenelg High's school resource officer, said the Howard Police Department aims to encourage safe driving habits among teens that could help parents avoid resorting to such action.

In addition to the safe driving presentation, the county was set to begin collision-avoidance training session for teens Friday at the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center in Marriottsville. The two-day program, which costs $95, teaches defensive driving and vehicle control techniques — such as braking, backing up and skid recovery — adapted from law enforcement training, officials said. Students take the lessons driving their own vehicles; the classes are held throughout the year.

The county also offers many of its programs the week before prom. Among them is the "Safety Bug," a modified Volkswagen Beetle that has a co-driver who simulates the reflexes of a driver under the influence. "We'll set up a cone course in the lot, and when the student tries to go through the cones, he can delay the student's steering and brakes," said Willingham. "The student slams on the brake, and it doesn't brake right away. The vehicle itself is under the influence."

And Howard County offers Courtesy on the Road, a program that has officials canvass the county looking for young drivers who are following the rules of the road. Those recognized are rewarded prizes, including gift certificates and free passes to events.

Willingham said Glenelg High also invites guest speakers, including officials from Maryland Shock Trauma Center, to speak with students. And he said that leading up to the prom, Glenelg High officials place a vehicle that was involved in a collision, along with a safety message, at each of the school's entrances.

Willingham said that in the Glenelg High area, most poor driving habits among teens involve phone usage, including texting.

"For the student drivers, the main thing that you can get is that distracted driving is what's causing many of the accidents out there with young people," Willingham told students and parents after the safe driving presentation.


"Getting from point 'A' to point 'B' should be your main focus when you're in that vehicle," Willingham added, "and nothing else."

Doug Tudor of Ellicott City, who attended the presentation with his daughter, Hannah, said it reinforced what many parents already know about driving dangers, particularly those that involve driving while intoxicated.

He added, "It gives us the chance to open up the dialogue and tell them, 'This is not a video game. You can really die.'"

Tudor said he also didn't know he could request that the state revoke his children's licenses, but he added, "With my kids, I know I can just take the keys."