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OXON HILL — Prince George’s County Council Member Monique Anderson-Walker (District 8) announced the official launch of #DrivingItHome, a driving safety awareness partnership initiative to change the driving culture in Prince George’s County, during a press conference on March 22.
“One of the reasons we came out here today, and I’m so grateful to have the support of my colleagues and our great community leaders, and our county executive is that we want to make a cultural change,” Anderson-Walker said. “This is not about the road, the road doesn’t do it. It’s people’s decisions when they are on the road.”
Following a series of horrific car crashes in Prince George’s County, most notably a crash at the beginning of the year where a drunk driver hit a family car killing three children and leaving their parents critically injured, Anderson-Walker is saying enough is enough and paving the way for change.
With reckless driving, specifically along Indian Head Highway/210, causing numerous injuries and fatalities, #DrivingItHome hopes to raise awareness of safe driving focusing on six areas crucial to highway safety: seatbelt use, texting and driving, driver distractions, drunk driving, highway speed and aggressive driving.
“When you make bad decisions, it doesn’t just affect you for a week, a month, a year and then you get over it,” Anderson-Walker said. “Unfortunately that’s not the case. These are lingering issues.”
While #DrivingItHome is for everyone to take part in, Anderson-Walker emphasized the importance of involving kids.
At their impressionable age they are just learning how to drive and with high school students taking the initiative with movements like the March For Our Lives, “any cultural change that takes place moving forward is going to be a student movement,” she said.
To involve high school students, Anderson-Walker met with about 800 students at Friendly High School that morning, and later with 300 students from Oxon Hill High School where the press conference took place.
“This is an initiative for everyone. The reason why we started out with students is because we know that those are the most compromised on the road,” Anderson-Walker said. “The challenges we’ve seen and the number of accidents we’ve seen have been with youngsters, with 16- and 17-year olds…So what we want to do is make sure the culture shift starts with them.”
Over the next few weeks, she said she plans to meet with students at Potomac High School and Crossland High School to get them involved by signing a pledge for safe driving and encouraging to join in a social media campaign. As an incentive, the person who gets the most likes on a post using #DrivingItHome will win a prize.
“The purpose of meeting with the students and presenting to them is to really get the culture to change,” Anderson-Walker said. “As 16-year-olds that are just starting to drive, we want to really drive it home, which is why this is called a driving it home campaign, we want to drive it home that these are important things for them when getting behind the wheel and they have a responsibility when getting behind the wheel of a car.”
During the press conference, Oxon Hill High School student and SGA President LaNia Mitchell signed her pledge for to commit to safe driving where she said she will not speed or be aggressive on the road, will not text and drive or drink and drive and will make everyone’s safety a priority.
Other public officials attended the press conference such as Prince George’s County Fire Chief Benjamin Barksdale, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety Mark Magaw and At-Large Council Member Calvin Hawkins.
Barksdale spoke briefly about how, despite the training that EMS personnel go through to prepare for such incidents, there is still a toll that dealing with car crashes caused by negligent driving has on first responders.
“That’s what it’s about, changing the behavior, changing the culture and explaining to the children that their poor decisions not only impact them, but have an impact far-reaching beyond them, the person that was in the car with them, the person that they hit and the first responder that provided help,” he said.
MaGaw, who also served as police chief of Prince George’s County from 2010 to 2016, echoed Barksdale’s experience saying he has “been on too many horrific accident scenes, I’ve spoken to too many distraught and broken-hearted families” adding that when we get behind the wheel, everything else has got to wait.
“The biggest part is, enforcement is not the answer. It’s a piece of it, but it is not the answer,” Magaw said. “We all need to put our phones down, we all need to slow down, we all need to wear our seatbelts. Everyone of us has a responsibility to make sure that we are being safe behind the wheel and we all need to work together to pass that word.”