A parking space on campus is a perk for Howard County seniors. But starting this school year, it will be take a little extra effort to obtain a parking permit.
Any high school student who wants the parking privilege must attend a safe-driving seminar with a parent under a new systemwide initiative to curb teen-related car accidents and fatalities. Because parking for students is limited, seniors and juniors have preference.
Brett Morales, who will be a senior this year, does not seem to mind. He said the seminar can be helpful for young drivers.
"Kids get their license for a little bit, and they tend to get comfortable with it and tend to get sloppy at times," said Morales, president of Atholton High School's Student Government Association. "If it's a refresher, it'll remind us how dangerous it can be, and to take precautions."
The program, which has been a requirement at River Hill High School for several years, was recommended by a countywide safety committee and supported by principals, said Pamela Blackwell, the school system's coordinator of student services.
"It's about education and safety," Blackwell said. "We'll have information on teens and safe driving. We're hoping it'll be real powerful."
This year, Howard County officials -- including the county executive, school superintendent and the police chief -- announced a broad initiative to focus on youth driving after a spate of car fatalities and other accidents involving teenagers.
Among them were the deaths of two Howard County students in separate accidents last fall.
"There was a concern that there had been so many teenage-driving deaths in the geographical area that we felt we should try to come up with an initiative to do what we can," said David Bruzga, an administrator for the county's high schools.
While state legislators worked on a variety of laws placing restrictions on teen drivers, Howard County officials formed the Teen Driver Safety Committee to address the issue locally. The committee examined several ideas, including the safe-driving course and denying or revoking parking permits to teenagers who have marks on their driving records.
The committee decided not to pursue a policy of linking parking permits with a student's driving record, Blackwell said. Some committee members had said that the policy would be difficult to manage, and it was unclear whether the punishment would target repeat offenders and serious violations.
"We were in conversation with [Police Chief G. Wayne] Livesay, and the decision was made that it wasn't something we needed to do at this time," Blackwell said.
As for the safety seminar, each county high school has set up a seminar schedule for this and next month. Additional courses will be held for students who obtain driver's licenses during the school year.
The hourlong safety course, led by a school resource officer at each high school, will cover youth driving tips and laws, said Steve Drummond, the school system's coordinator of school security. Each school also can invite speakers for presentations on safe driving, Drummond said.
Parking and driving rules at each school also will be discussed.
"We only have control over the students when they're in school," he said. "Coming to and leaving school seems to be the most dangerous [time] for kids."
The school system is putting together a speaker bureau, through which schools can have officials from law enforcement and other organizations give safe-driving presentations during the school year, Blackwell said.
That way, she said, schools can continue their "message of safety."
"That message over and over again is worth hearing," Blackwell said.
"It falls in line with one of the school system's goals of providing a safe environment," she said.
Howard County high school students applying for a parking permit on campus must attend a safe-driving course with a parent under a new systemwide initiative. Here is a list of course schedules at each high school. The seminar will be held at each of the county's high schools except where specified.
Atholton: Aug. 23 and Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.
Centennial: Aug. 24 and 29 at 7 p.m.
Glenelg: Aug. 24 and Sept. 1 at 6 p.m.
Hammond: Aug. 17 and Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.
Howard: Aug. 17 (Smith Theatre, Howard Community College); and Aug. 30 and Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.
Long Reach: Aug. 16 and 23 at 7 p.m.
Mount Hebron: Aug. 25 at 6:30 p.m. and Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Oakland Mills: Aug. 25 and Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.
Reservoir: Aug. 23 and Sept. 1 at 7 p.m.
River Hill: Aug. 23, 24 and 29 at 7 p.m.
Wilde Lake: Aug. 17 at 4 p.m., Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. and Aug. 22 at 4 p.m.
Source: Howard County school system