Steering teens in right direction

Safety: A mother-son Web site that aids new drivers marks its 10th anniversary.

Education

August 04, 2004|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ten years ago, just as Eileen Buckholtz's son was learning to drive, a series of car accidents occurred involving students from his school, Glenelg High.

Buckholtz and her husband, who live in Sykesville, encouraged Ryan to learn about car safety using a new tool, the Internet.

"We were trying to find stuff on the Internet, and there just really wasn't anything there. So we thought, kind of as a project for him to learn about being a safe driver and how to learn how to use the Internet, that he should make a Web site."

This year, that Web site - www.teendriving.com - is celebrating its 10th anniversary of providing a place for teenagers to talk with their peers about driving safely.

The home page includes a letter from Ryan, who works for grassroots.org. In it, he writes, "I thought as a community service, I'd collect some tips that new drivers might find helpful and make it available on the Web."

Eileen said that as they began building the page, Ryan would verify the tips he received with police or authors of driving textbooks.

`Peer to peer'

Owen Crabb, co-author of Drive Right: You Are the Driver, was one of their advisers.

"The thing that caught my attention was peer to peer, young people talking to young people," Crabb said. "It was just a matter of encouragement" and fact-checking. "Once you get somebody that's Web-savvy that way, they take off."

Some of the tips on the Web site include advice for teens on driving in different environments, such as around school or in the country. Also included is practical information on how to drive in bad weather, parallel park and buy a used car. To help visitors find the cheapest local gas, there is a link to www.GasBuddy.com.

Eileen, a Web designer and professor of e-business for the University of Phoenix, noted that visitors are not limited to teenagers. "We get a lot of people from all over who use the site," she said.

From its early form - basic tips that Ryan researched and Eileen edited - the site has grown to include stories and information from around the world.

Some of Eileen's recent favorites are "a person who sent us information on how not to be carjacked if you're driving in Northern Ireland. People from the Caribbean told us how to drive if there were chickens and pigs running around. Someone sent a story about how his cousin had been driving in the desert and hit a camel."

Eileen said she and her son spend a few hours a week adding these tips and stories, and updating the site at least once a month.

Ryan was not available for an interview because he is moving to California for his job.

Sponsors

Although the Buckholtzes originally paid for the Web site themselves, they are now financed by carefully chosen sponsors. These include online driving schools, even though the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles does not certify new drivers through Internet programs.

Instead, teenagers often use traditional driving schools to earn their driving hours. Many area high schools offer driver education through an outside vendor.

Kashif Chaudhry owns Professional Driving School Inc. in Catonsville. His company runs after-school and evening classes at River Hill High School. Chaudhry donates a portion of his fees to the River Hill Boosters, which sponsors his program.

Driver education has not caught up to changes in technology, Chaudhry said.

Although he is working on an online program for driver improvement, "I'm not sure how effective Internet driver's ed is going to be [for new drivers]," Chaudhry said. "I don't think that technology is really going to be able to replace the one on one [of] the actual instructor ... explaining their experiences behind the wheel."

The Buckholtz Web site recommends only online courses that are free until the student passes, with a reminder that not all states will honor the results.

"It's convenient. It's less expensive. Kids these days are very used to video games and the interactive mode," Eileen said, although new drivers still have to take a behind-the-wheel test in person.

"Helping Ryan proactively get involved in the safe driving as opposed to having to learn by trial and error" has led to helping others, she said. "It just shows the power of the Web. It became much bigger than we ever thought."

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