Online driver ed course gives students virtual on-the-road experience

Online driver ed course gives students virtual on-the-road experience

COLUMBIA, Mo. – With fewer Missouri school districts offering formal driving instruction, teenagers across the state are finding it more difficult to take driver education. A newly launched online course from the University of Missouri High School may turn that trend around, using technology to give beginning drivers the next best option to on-the-road training.

MU High School’s interactive driver education course is available year-round, allowing students to enroll at any time and take up to nine months to finish while working at their own pace, said Kristi Smalley, the school’s principal.

“Every community has been touched by the loss of young drivers in crashes that could have been prevented,” Smalley said. “With many schools no longer able to afford driver education programs, we saw a need to fill that gap for families to ensure their teens are equipped as much as possible to become safe, responsible drivers.”

To prepare students for safe driving before they get behind the wheel, the course teaches them how to operate a car and about rules of the road and other driving basics. They study defensive driving maneuvers and strategies for driving in cities and on highways and rural roads.

An accompanying DVD features real-life driving videos with multi-angle 3-D graphics and animations that emphasize key aspects of the video clips, Smalley said. Lessons focus on complex driving skills and hazards students will confront while driving. Interactive features also enable students to check and confirm their understanding of important driving concepts as they go through the lessons.

“Online learning continues to be an efficient tool to extend opportunities to students that otherwise would not be possible,” said Carter D. Ward, executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association and board member of the U.S. Distance Learning Association. “I applaud the University of Missouri High School for recognizing how ‘learning by distance’ can effectively be used to provide instruction to beginning drivers – wherever they reside in our state or nation.”

The Missouri Department of Transportation reports that drivers ages 16 to 20 were involved in more than 22,000 crashes in 2006. The state ranked ninth in a National Safety Council study looking at collisions involving at least one driver in that same age group.

The course tackles one of the newer behaviors contributing to that trend and also attracting much public attention – distracted driving. Teenagers talking on cell phones, text-messaging and transporting friends can be a disaster waiting to happen, said Gary Maddox, director of MU Extension’s Law Enforcement Training Institute.

Maddox’s certified defensive-driving staff reviewed and approved the course, which was created by a former Missouri Driver and Safety Education Association teacher of the year. Students who complete Driver Education earn a half-unit of credit, equivalent to a semester-length course.

MU High School, part of University of Missouri Extension’s Center for Distance and Independent Study, offers a comprehensive curriculum of more than 150 courses to students who want to supplement studies at their local schools, or who choose to pursue a diploma entirely online. Offering online courses since 1997 and with more than 15,000 course enrollments last year, MUHS is the state’s first and largest online secondary education provider.

For more information and costs, visit http://cdis.missouri.edu/go/drive.aspx or call 1-800-609-3727. To take advantage of a group-enrollment discount, Smalley encourages schools to register 10 or more students simultaneously.

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