Sheriff, superintendent remind teen drivers, ‘We Care,’ slow down
Program aims to warn students of dangers of distracted driving, other hazards on the road
The Charles County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly Hill were out in force Wednesday morning, welcoming high school student drivers back to school and reminding them to drive safely.
“Our key message is responsible driving,” Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry (D) said. “As our young people grow up, they get more responsibility. They’re learning to drive, and we just want to make sure they have a safe school year and we don’t lose any of our young people to any incidents on our roadways.”
The “We Care” safe driving program, now
in its ninth year, is an initiative of the sheriff’s office in cooperation with the county’s school system, to speak with student drivers coming to school, Berry said.
“It’s a collaborative program that we’re working with the school board system and Dr. Kimberly Hill in regards to encouraging the young people who are of driving age at all of our high schools to drive responsibly,” Berry said. “We’re encouraging them not to drink, not to text and drive, not to be a distracted driver, and we also want to remind them to watch their speed.”
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Diane Richardson said the program began in 2008 following a series of teen driving fatalities.
“We started this whole program here at La Plata High School, and it was on the heels of several students who had died in horrific car crashes in previous years,” Richardson said.
In Maryland, the minimum age for a learner’s permit is 15 years, nine months, and the minimum age for a provisional license is 16 years, six months. A driver may obtain a full license at the age of 18.
Officers were out at each high school, Richardson said. Every year, the program highlights a different high school, where the sheriff and the superintendent speak with drivers.
Hill said the program is one example of the school system and police working together to help the community.
“We never want to lose a child in a car accident, and so many times kids don’t believe that anything bad can happen to them,” Hill said. “So we just want to remind them to put those distractions away — cell phones primarily — keep their speed down, make sure that when they’re driving around schools to drive safely and really focusing on the road rather than anything else.”
Hill and police also presented student drivers with fliers containing driving safety information. In addition, Richardson said school resource officers conduct random safety checkpoints during the school year and work with the Association of Student Councils to promote other safe driving events throughout the school year.
Richardson said teen driving accidents have decreased since the program was initiated.
“We feel that keeping safe driving in the forefronts of students’ minds has significantly reduced the fatalities that we’ve had,” Richardson said. “Since 2008, there have been under five cases in which students have died on these county roads, and that’s a lot different from where it was prior to 2008, when we had between three to five fatalities per year.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of fatality for teens ages 12 to 19, making up approximately one-third of all deaths in that age group.
Hill spoke to several teens who had their cell phones in their laps, encouraging them to put the phones away and avoid distractions.
“It’s worrisome, it really is, because kids are very connected these days, and we appreciate that, but when you’re driving you need to drive, and when you’re texting, you text, but not at the same time. Those two things should never cross,” Hill said.
CCSO Lt. Randy Stine also said he saw many teen drivers come to school with their phones in their laps, but said he hoped the program will encourage some to change their behavior.
“Most of them are going to keep doing what they’re doing, but if we can save one life, it’s worth it,” Stine said.
More information can be found online at ccso. us/wecare.
Charles County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Randy Stine speaks to a driver about safe driving at La Plata High School Wednesday morning, as part of the “We Care” safe driving campaign.
Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry hands out a safe driving flier at La Plata High School Wednesday morning, as part of the “We Care” safe driving campaign.
Charles County Superintendent Kimberly Hill speaks with a driver about safe driving at La Plata High School Wednesday morning, as part of the “We Care” safe driving campaign.