Teenagers who don’t have access to formal driving instruction now have the option to learn the rules of the road through an online driver education course launched in November.
The course is offered through the University of Missouri High School, part of the University of Missouri Extension’s Center for Distance and Independent Study. It costs $160, including an administrative fee, and provides interaction through real-life driving videos, multi-angle 3-D graphics and animations.
MU High School Principal Kristi Smalley said the school has offered driver education courses since 1972 and online courses since 2002.
But the new course is different because of its extra interactive options and video clips. It also addresses new concerning behaviors, such as increased text messaging and phone calls made by teenage drivers.
“Kids are so used to doing (these) things and take them for granted, which affects their ability to drive,” Smalley said.
Missouri drivers ages 16 to 20 were involved in more than 22,000 crashes in 2006, according to a news release from MU Extension. The revamped online driver education course aims to tackle the distressing statistics by teaching youths to become attentive and aware, Smalley said.
Although the course thoroughly covers rules of safety behind the wheel, it is not a video game or simulation and is not meant to
replace actual on-the-road training, which is up to the students and their families, Smalley said.
The 19 online lessons cover how to operate a car, driving regulations and maneuvering tactics for urban traffic and rural areas.
Drew Zoellers, 17, who has been enrolled in the course for a few weeks, finds it both straightforward and efficient as he can access it from the comfort of his own home.
“I’ve always wanted to take a drivers ed course and enrolled on MU online,” said Zoellers. “I saw it in the course offerings. Everyone
needs drivers ed. Nothing can beat hands-on training, but it comes close.”
The course fills a gap: Many Missouri school districts, including Columbia Public Schools, offer no formal driving instruction, Smalley said.
Jim Morris, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said there are fewer and fewer school districts that offer driver education courses due to limited means, liability insurance and scheduling issues. Out of 524 school districts in Missouri, 39 are offering driver education during the regular school period and 191 during the summer.
“In 1990, 228 schools offered it,” Morris said. “The number has been dropping steadily.”
The MU High School course has three components: an online study guide, a textbook and an interactive DVD. Before each online lesson, students are assigned a chapter to read and a portion of the DVD to view. Each lesson includes multiple-choice questions and self-check
To measure the student’s level of performance, an online progress evaluation is produced and sent off to faculty and staff. Students are also assessed by two formal, supervised exams.
The course is credited as a half-unit and is offered all year, allowing students to enroll at any time. Participants have up to nine months to complete the course at their own pace, but they can do it much sooner if they wish. Zoellers, for instance, plans to finish in a matter of weeks.
Smalley said she encourages schools to register 10 or more students at a time to take advantage of the group-enrollment discount. Fee grants are also available at some districts across the state, but student eligibility is entirely up to the discretion of individual schools.