Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009

The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration is reminding young motorists this week that bad decisions they make when they are behind the wheel of a car can lead to tragedies on our roadways.

Young drivers between 16 and 20 were involved in about 1.6 million accidents last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. According to the group’s statistics, 7,975 people nationwide were killed in crashes involving young drivers and this year, Maryland teens will be involved in about 20,000 crashes and approximately 100 young people will be killed.

It’s National Teen Driver Safety Week and many programs and educational activities are being conducted throughout the state.

Charles County has made driver safety a priority, and programs now going on in the schools continue year-round. Local law enforcement and school officials don’t need this special week to reinforce safe driving habits to the county’s young drivers. Emphasis began a few years ago after the county experienced a rash of teen fatalities.

Another good thing that has recently happened was that on Oct. 1 several new safety laws in Maryland became effective. Young motorists must now be 16 and 6 months old to get a driver’s license. Also, the time period was extended for a learner’s permit in some cases. The most important safety law that took effect was the ban on texting while driving. Those caught doing so can be fined up to $500 and can get three points on their driving record.

An unscientific poll conducted by Southern Maryland Newspapers last week found those participating overwhelmingly agreed that the ban was a good idea. That could be encouraging. Here’s hoping that those who chose to vote are young people or maybe their parents. If young drivers already know how dangerous it is to text while driving, that’s half the battle. If parents are stressing the dangers, then that also goes a long way to stopping the behavior.

“We owe our newly minted drivers every opportunity possible to develop safe driving habits,” said SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen, in a press release from his office announcing the state’s participation in National Teen Driver Safety Week. “Apart from parental guidance and law enforcement, the single most effective way for teens to stay alive is to take responsibility for their own safety and well-being.”

So kids have gotten the message about the dangers of texting. But there is still reason to remind them of other things they can do when they are driving — like wearing seat belts, making sure their passengers are buckled up, driving the speed limit and basically paying attention.