Sher­iff, su­per­in­ten­dent re­mind teen driv­ers, ‘We Care,’ slow down

Pro­gram aims to warn stu­dents of dan­gers of dis­tracted driv­ing, other haz­ards on the road

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

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.

STAFF PHOTOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

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.

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