In 2005, after reporting on 13 teen traffic fatalities in Montgomery County alone, WJLA ABC 7 News anchor Leon Harris decided to take action.
He teamed with Montgomery County Police Capt. Tom Didone to bring the "Drive to Stay Alive" program to as many people as possible.
The program offers strategies for talking to teenagers about safe driving.
Auto accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk of an auto crash is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
On Wednesday night, the Montgomery County Public Schools Parent Academy brought "Drive to Safety" to Thomas S. Wootton High School.
Assistant Principal Ira Thomas welcomed parents and students. "Here at Wootton, assistant principals go into the classrooms to talk to students about this topic," he said. "I'm so happy and thrilled to have the opportunity to host this program for parents tonight."
For the next 90 minutes, Harris and Didone used statistics and film clips to bring the harsh facts about teen driving home to their audience.
Distracted driving is the biggest factor in fatalities involving teens.
"Texting and driving is the most dangerous thing you can do," Harris said. "It's 23 percent more dangerous than just driving and four times more deadly than driving drunk."
Talking to your child will make a difference, he said. "All the studies show that if you talk, they will listen."
Adding a radio, texting, the teen proclivity to speed and their feeling of invincibility to the mix gives you everything you need for a bad outcome.
"Put one kid in a car and that doubles the risk of a crash," said Didone, whose 15-year-old son Ryan was killed in 2008 while riding with a group of friends from Damascus High School in a speeding car that crashed. "Put a group of kids in the back seat of the car and it's a recipe for disaster."
Didone also stressed the importance of wearing seat belts. Not just for your own safety but for the safety of others in the car because "unbelted passengers are projectiles," he said. It's not unusual for passengers wearing seatbelts to be fatally injured by the passenger who is not.
The message for parents was that they are the ones who can give the privilege of driving to their kids and they are the ones who can take it away.
Harris encouraged parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of wearing a seat belt.
"An important part of what you say to your teens is that what they do [or] what they don't do, is not just about them," Harris said. "Every decision they make could possibly affect everybody you know. And possibly a community you don't know."
Parents in the audience were pleased with the presentation.
"My daughter is about to get her driver's license," said Wootton parent Patrice Adore. "I value her life and need her to value her life as well. I want her to understand a vehicle is a weapon of mass destruction, not a toy. It puts a lot of power in her hands."
Milan Adore said: "I take it seriously. I'll be fine."
"Drive to Stay Alive" should be the subject of a student assembly during the school day, said Byron Johns, a Wootton junior.
"I think they should make students that drive to school and park here see this program," he said.
His mother agreed.
"[The program] was absolutely fantastic," she said. "It really should be required for every kid in high school."
For more information or to request a free video of the program, contact Abby Fenton, director of community relations at WJLA at email@example.com or 703-236-9292.