Montgomery County is in a state of change. Originally a suburban community planned around moving cars at an optimum pace, much of Montgomery County today is becoming urban, putting more pedestrians, cyclists and others on the road. Reaching zero roadway deaths may seem like a tall order. More people die in Montgomery County each year in road crashes than homicides. In 2019, that meant 32 pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle occupants killed on county roads, along with 235 serious injuries. Zero feels a long way away.
In Montgomery County, safety is and must remain our priority. Vision Zero — a wide-ranging program of engineering, education and enforcement initiatives aimed at eliminating fatal and severe crashes by 2030 — puts the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicle users front and center.
However, one key aspect that’s missing in the Vision Zero campaign is educating county motorists to drive with increased safety and awareness. This begins with our youngest drivers. In January, we visited Montgomery Blair High School to kick off #DrivingItHome, a regional partnership focused on educating the public on safe driving practices beginning in high school.
#DrivingItHome is the first part of our outreach to young drivers. The initiative began in Prince George’s County with Prince George’s County Council member Monique Anderson-Walker, and it now includes other elected officials from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Northern Virginia and the District. We are focused on educating all roadway users about the importance of safe practices on our roads — because even one death is too many.
As the student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Nate Tinbite introduced a resolution on this issue in November. The resolution asks Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack R. Smith to explore public-private partnership options to reduce the cost of driver’s education programs and offer them in more schools.
In the 1990s, Montgomery County Public Schools offered driver’s education as a high school course, with school-based driving tracks and certified teachers. Those courses are no longer part of the high school curriculum, which means that today’s teens are required to complete a private driver’s education course that costs anywhere from $300 to $1,000.
This hefty economic requirement can keep many teens, particularly those affected by poverty, from being able to afford a driver’s license. A recent survey by Zebra, an insurance cost-comparison website, shows that teenagers from higher-income households are 51 percent more likely to have a driver’s license than their low-income peers — and cost was the No. 1 reason.
In addition to cost, convenience and competing academic priorities can also act as barriers to young adults who might otherwise become licensed drivers. It is critical that we provide equitable access to programs so that we can ensure our most vulnerable — our students — have the educational foundation they need to be safe on the roads in the future.
The teens of today will dominate the roads of tomorrow. If we are going to reach zero road deaths by 2030, we must begin by creating safe drivers now. Reaching out to students early through public education efforts such as #DrivingItHome, and eliminating the high cost of driver’s education by bringing this vital program back to public schools, are essential steps in the right direction.
For our community and our future, Montgomery County must do everything we can to achieve Vision Zero.