The rules might as well be chiseled into the dashboard of the Plymouth Voyager that 16-year-old Katie Ciavolella will soon be allowed to drive by herself:
No place but school, work and home.
Jean Ciavolella, her nervous mother, set the rules by domestic decree for Katie's older brother, Cary, and they have helped keep him safe for two years. Sitting next to her daughter, absently humming along with "Summer Time Blues" playing over the PA system at the Motor Vehicle Administration in Gaithersburg, mom is candid: Katie is not a good driver. Bad, in fact, especially going backward, when left and right get confusing.
Her rules are not random. Ciavolella developed them during her time as a teacher at Gaithersburg High School.
"It seemed like every student I had totaled a car, especially the boys," she said. "But I never had a student who totaled a car when they were alone."
The recent verdict in the case of a Takoma Park teenager who killed three people in a car accident along East West Highway last year has compelled many Washington area parents to reexamine the crash, parsing it for lessons to make a teenager's first driver's license a less dangerous milestone. It comes as a new Maryland law takes effect that not only forces teenagers to wait longer for the right to drive alone but also requires parents to spend 40 hours tutoring them from the passenger seat.
Michael Schoenfeld, 17, had been a licensed driver for just two weeks when he sped out of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School parking lot last July with a Subaru Outback full of friends. By the time he reached the bottom of a steep curving hill, three people, including two teenagers, were dead.
Horrific, yes, but hardly singular, according to national statistics: Since 1996, about 6,000 teenagers have died annually in traffic accidents. More people between 15 and 20 years old are killed on the roads than die of any other cause.
In the Schoenfeld case, "you have a kid who appears to be a good kid," said Mahlon G. Anderson, spokesman for the American Automobile Association's Mid-Atlantic Chapter. "Frankly, what he was doing was just being a teen -- showing off, using bad judgment."
Roya Mortazavi believes she knows bad judgment when she sees it. And she used to see a lot of it in her son, 15-year-old Ala Shahabi, who sat next to her yesterday clutching a handful of colored forms at the jammed MVA. Mortazavi is an Iranian immigrant who believes 16 is too young an age at which to drive.
She said said her son had to convince her he is ready "to be responsible for somebody else's life" before she'd let him drive the family's Toyota Corolla.
In their Potomac neighborhood, Mortazavi said, the teen-driving track record is not good. Not only can Ala name several Churchill High School classmates who have been hospitalized after car crashes, but Mortazavi has been cut off, cursed at and flipped off by young drivers swerving around suburban roads.
"They get a BMW for their 16th birthday, and they have attitude," said Mortazavi, who has used the Schoenfeld case to discuss safety with her son. "No friends will be allowed in the car until I see he is in control. They want to talk, to change the CD. In this country, they just want to be part of the group."
Driving instructors say parents such as Mortazavi have the right idea. As Mialan Love, an instructor at Calvert Driving School, puts it, "The law may say you can get a license at 16, but it's up to parents to make sure their child should."
Love, who has been teaching novice drivers for 16 years, said Schoenfeld apparently was still in the "romance period" teenagers experience when they receive their license. At that stage, she said, few if any passengers should be in the car. Parents should know what routes their teenager takes.
The teenage drivers "are not a taxi service," Love said.
Timothy E. Tilghman is a father of four, including 17- and 20-year-old sons. Neither Paul nor Tyee Jerome is allowed to take the car more than an hour from the family's Greenbelt home, among other clear rules set by dad.
"The car does not move unless I know where it's going, when it's going to get there, when it's going to come back and who's going to be with them," said Tilghman, who also warns his sons about driving with one hand.
"I tell them they don't want to be so cool that they are not aware of what's going on around them," he said.
The new Maryland law, which took effect Thursday, requires new drivers to wait four months instead of two weeks between the time they get a learner's permit and a driver's license. Parents also will be required to present a log book to MVA officials charting the 40 hours of lessons they have given their child, including clinics in different road conditions.
Advocates of the bill note that a Maryland beautician needs 1,000 hours of training before receiving a license. As Anderson of AAA notes, "I've never known anyone who has died of a bad hair cut."
As part of the new state law, Maryland officials eventually will make the driving portion of the licensing test more difficult by requiring applicants to show their skills on real streets. Now the test is conducted on a closed course, about as similar to the Capital Beltway as a suburban driveway.
"It's a Mickey Mouse test," said Bob Maxino, owner of the Easy Method Driving School in Kensington. "They see no pedestrians, no traffic, and you can't possibly drive over 10 miles an hour.
"That's what leads to what happened on East West Highway," Maxino said. "He's got his license, and he thinks he owns the world."
But even the strictest parents find that rules don't always prevent problems.
Pat Dennis has one clear rule for her teenage sons Andrew and Patrick, whom she calls a "Richard Petty wannabe" after the race car driver.
"If you get a ticket, your license is mine, and you won't get it back until I tell you," said Dennis, who lives in Chesapeake Beach.
Nonetheless, 19-year-old Patrick wrecked a family Chevrolet Suburban last summer a half-mile from home. He accelerated through a stop sign and smashed into a parked Suburban.
"These boys hot dog," Dennis said. "Every teenager I know thinks they are immortal. You can talk to them until you are purple in the face."