A new kind of How's My Driving? campaign is underway on area roadways. But it isn't for truck drivers--it's for teenagers.
Call My Mom Inc. was started about a year ago by Elaine Hollar and Dona Dickinson, two Fairfax County mothers concerned about the safety of teenagers who are new to driving. The women figured inviting motorists to call numbers on bumper stickers if they see unsafe driving is one way to ease the minds of worried parents.
Hollar recalls the anxiety she felt when the oldest of her two children was about to reach the driving age of 16.
"The quicker Stephanie was getting closer to driving, I thought about how I could watch her," Hollar said. "They feel like nothing can hurt them, and we all know that's not true."
Originally, she wanted to put her phone number on her daughter's car so if there were any problems, she would know about them. "That's how we got the Call My Mom idea," she said.
Co-founder Dickinson recalled the day when Hollar came to her house to share the idea. With three teenagers of her own nearing 16, she thought it was a great idea. "It's just one more way for parents to keep a remote eye on them," Dickinson said.
The program is simple. Parents sign up their new drivers through an application containing detailed information about the car the teenager will be driving--make, model, year, color, registration--as well as the way they would like to be contacted. The cost is $49.95 a year for a family, with up to four bumper stickers. There are two bumper sticker options to choose from, 1-877-MOM-CALL or 1-888-2-DIAL-MOM.
Motorists who observe a teen driving recklessly can call the number on the sticker 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to anonymously report the behavior. Although previous reports were answered only by voice mail, calls are now taken through a live answering service contracted by Call My Mom Inc. The incident is entered into a database, and parents are notified the same day.
Motorists reporting an incident must have at least two identifying characteristics of a car to complete a match. Call My Mom will then notify all matching cars. Even if the information matches more than one registered car, Hollar said, it's better to give the parents an idea that an incident may have occurred so they can address it. Because callers are required to give location, date and time, parents usually would have an idea whether an incident involved their child, she said.
Hollar said she and Dickinson are not concerned about prank calls. Since the start-up of the program, there have been some hang-ups but no unusual calls, she said.
The bumper stickers have drawn some attention in the Washington area.
"I've had people stop me and ask, 'Is that a joke?' " Hollar said. Her response is standard and emphatic: "No--it's not a joke! Sign up for this."
So far the program has drawn only six participants and has had slow growth because both Hollar and Dickinson work full-time jobs and have done little marketing. Hollar, 49, is a network manager at the Water Environment Federation, and Dickinson, 44, is a consultant at Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc. The bumper stickers primarily have been circulating among their family and friends.
Sandy Plaugher, of Manassas, enrolled her 17-year-old son, Daniel, a year ago when he first got his license. "Anything that will slow them down, I'm for," Plaugher said.
She also likes the similarity to the program for truck drivers. "They [truckers] do drive better if they think people are watching. I think it's basically the same idea for teenagers."
Plaugher said there is a parental nervousness that doesn't go away. "I worry every time he's out," she said. "But the sticker helps." She said she probably would take the sticker off Daniel's car when he turns 18.
While parents like the program, teenagers have mixed views.
Hollar's daughter Stephanie, now 16, got her license in February and has her own car, complete with a Call My Mom bumper sticker.
"I didn't think it was a good idea and didn't think I'd need to be involved," Stephanie said about the first time her mom told her about about the program.
One of her fears about the program was that other teenagers might call in and report her as a joke.
"Anyone could call as a prank," she said. "But that hasn't happened."
Stephanie said she thinks the program sends a message that all teenagers are bad drivers.
"All adults think like that," said the Lake Braddock High School junior. "[They] immediately believe we're bad drivers." But, she added, "If I'm out of line or any other teenager is, people should call."
Dickinson's oldest child, Alexandra Truax, is 15 and just about to get her license. "It has its ups and downs," Truax, a sophomore at Robinson High School, said of the program. "It is saying that teenagers are bad drivers, and I don't like that. At first I was insecure [about having the sticker on my car] but not anymore."
Overall, considering the safety of herself and other teenage drivers, she agrees with the idea. "It will be good in the long term," she said.
For more information or to register a new driver call 1-877-MOM-CALL or 1-888-2-DIAL-MOM or visit the Web site: http://www.callmymom.com
CAPTION: Call My Mom Inc. provides bumper stickers for teenage drivers' cars.
CAPTION: Kneeling by her car is Stephanie Hollar, 16, next to mother Elaine Hollar. Behind are Alexandra Truax, 15, and mother Dona Dickinson. The two mothers started Call My Mom Inc.