Web ride yields driving tips Online: Prompted by a lack of advice on the Internet and the auto-related deaths of students from his high school, a Howard teen created a Web site on how to steer clear of accidents.

March 11, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Ryan Buckholtz wants the Class of 1997 to stay clear of Glenelg High School's history of fatal traffic accidents.

At least seven of the western Howard County high school's students have died in auto accidents since 1988, though none since December 1994. Several graduates have died in traffic accidents in recent years in the area.

But when Ryan, a 17-year-old senior at the high school, turned to the Internet for advice on how to be a safe driver, he couldn't find anything -- a surprising discovery for a teen-ager of the 1990s accustomed to finding just about anything on the World Wide Web.

So Ryan collected his own set of tips and created an Internet home page that has attracted interest not just from new drivers in Howard County but from around the country and the world.

"I just couldn't believe there wasn't anything out there on the Internet giving teen-agers advice how to drive," says Ryan, who lives in the Howard portion of Sykesville. "I think most new drivers want to be safe, but a lot of teen-agers tend to tune out lectures from their parents or other adults on how to drive.

"The Internet seemed to be a low-pressure way to let one teen-ager give advice to other teen-agers," says Ryan.

Tips include such simple reminders as steering clear of aggressive drivers and more complicated directions on how to use anti-lock brakes in bad weather. Even two step-by-step guides to parallel parking are provided.

"So much of driver education tends to be formal and in a classroom, but here's an example of a young person who is reaching out to others and offering help on their level," says Owen Crabb, the senior staff specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education who has overseen driver's education since 1970. "Driving can be dangerous, especially for that population that is just learning to drive, and these tips can be very helpful."

In the past decade in Maryland, driver's education classes have been eliminated by most school systems to save money, Crabb said. Only seven Maryland school systems offer the courses.

Instead, to get their licenses, most 16- and 17-year-olds must attend private driving schools for at least 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of supervised driving. People 18 and older only have to take a three-hour, state alcohol-education course.

Extra road preparation

For students who are hitting the highway with so little preparation, Ryan's introduction to the "Teen New Drivers' Homepage" offers a sobering message:

"A lot of kids from my school have been in accidents -- some with serious injuries -- and some have gotten killed," Ryan tells Internet explorers who come upon his page.

Nationally, traffic accidents continue to be the leading cause of death among teens ages 16 to 19, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va.

Glenelg has suffered particularly, say many in the community.

"Every time you drive by the school, you go past all those trees that have been planted for the kids who have died -- it's like memorial lane," says the Rev. Kevin Farmer, associate pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Frederick and a 1983 Glenelg graduate. "It strikes me that there's a different tragedy every year."

The county's 4-H organization -- which draws most of its members from the rural area around Glenelg High -- gives annual scholarships in memory of three members who died in the past few years. "It really has hit the community hard, year after year," says Howard 4-H agent Martin Hamilton.

Few suggest that Glenelg's troubled traffic history is a result of pure bad luck.

It is the only high school in the more rural, western part of Howard, where surrounding roads tend to be winding and narrow.

Ryan is hoping to change Glenelg's history of fatalities by encouraging new drivers to think before they get behind the wheel.

He spends at least an hour a day after school tending his Web site. It's not his only interest; he began practice this week with Glenelg's varsity tennis team, and his grades put him among the school's top 5 percent of seniors.

"I'm not the car guru, and I'm not [advice columnist] Ann Landers," says Ryan, who drives a blue 1993 Sundance. "I'm just trying to give a teen perspective on driving."

From officer to teen

Ryan's Internet home-page has drawn praise from around the country, including an Ohio police officer, who says the teen-ager's advice helped him lecture to a class, and a Missouri teen-ager learning to drive.

But the compliments that may mean the most to Ryan are those of Alfredo J. Herrera, a pediatrician whose son Christian was the most recent Glenelg student to die in a traffic accident. Christian's death Dec. 10, 1994, was an inspiration for Ryan's Internet page.

"I think it's a great idea," says Herrera, who speaks regularly to county students about traffic safety since his son's accident. "I think students may feel more comfortable reading tips over the Internet -- and we need to do anything we can to help reduce the number of accidents among our kids.

"We need to end this unfortunate tie between traffic accidents and Glenelg High School."

Ryan's "Teen New Drivers' Homepage" is located at www.ai.net/ryanb.

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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