Rookie drivers have been labeled

August 09, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

For years, bumper stickers have sent strong messages to motorists about the personality of the person behind the wheel.

"Hate Is Not A Family Value."

"A Child Is Not A Choice."

"Meat Is Murder."

"Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty."

Now, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration wants young drivers to add a bumper sticker that sends a very practical message to other motorists:

"ROOKIE driver."

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In a pilot program this month, the MVA is handing out the yellow-striped magnetic stickers with black lettering to everyone who receives a learner's permit.


The idea is to alert other drivers that they are approaching an inexperienced driver. State officials hope it will reduce accidents and save lives.

"The small feedback we are getting verbally has been encouraging," said Jim Lang, a spokesman for the MVA.

Lang said officials will evaluate the program at the end of the month and could decide to incorporate it as a full-time feature of learner's permits.

The program is voluntary; drivers don't have to put the sticker on their car. But the results of the first week suggest that most do.

Cindy Woodward, an administrative assistant with Hagerstown MVA office, said 30 out of 37 people who have gotten learner's permits this month have taken the bumper sticker.

"I think it's not the children's choice. It's the parents' choice," said Rebecca Snyder, manager of the local office. "I think it's more for the parents than the student."

Jessica Hoffman, who was hoping to drive home after getting her learner's permit earlier this week, said she likes the idea.

"It draws attention. Maybe people will be more understanding if I make a mistake," she said.

The 15-year-old Keedysville girl's father, Jeff, also endorsed the concept.

"I'm all for it. I think it's needed," he said. "I think a lot of kids nowadays aren't mature enough when they start."

Statistically, youthful drivers are far more likely to be involved in traffic accidents.

Drivers aged 16 to 20 were involved in 640 accidents in Washington County last year, about one-fourth of the total number. Statewide, that age group accounted for 20 percent of the accidents.

Lt. Donnie Knott, the commander of the Hagerstown barracks of the Maryland State Police, said drivers instinctively slow down and pay closer attention when they see a student driver sign on top of a vehicle.

"This is kind of in the same vein, I guess," he said.

Critics of the "Rookie Driver" program, however, questioned whether it would have a measurable effect on accidents and said it could make young drivers a target for ridicule among their peers.

"It's kind of demeaning to that individual. I certainly wouldn't want to have that displayed on my car," said 1st Sgt. Doug Mullendore, of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Mullendore said most of the accidents involving young people occur after they have already received their driver's licenses.

"Quite frankly, there are not that many accidents involving drivers with learner's permits. In fact, they are probably more cautious than regular drivers," he said. "If anything, we should put the stickers on everyone else."

Mullendore also questioned whether the stickers would cause other motorists to drive more cautiously around the new drivers.

"Drivers generally don't pay any attention to road signs, let alone bumper stickers," he said.

The Maryland Insurance Association has backed the pilot program and Calvin M. Mahaney, president of the Hagerstown-based Brethren Mutual Insurance Co., said his company put up some of the money to pay for the bumper stickers.

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