School Steers Young Drivers Safely Ahead

July 30th 2005 - Indianapolis Star, The (IN) July 28, 2005 Author: WILLIAM J. BOOHER Drive Zone of Greenwood is the first driver education program in Indiana to be approved by AAA Motor Club. A driving school in Greenwood is the first in Indiana to be certified as an affiliate in the American Automobile Association's new Approved Driving School Network. Drive Zone, in the Vista Run retail center along Main Street, just west of I-65, received the certification this month. The Hoosier AAA Motor Club has identified more than 40 commercial driving schools in Indiana that are eligible if they meet the network's guidelines. The Hoosier Motor Club noted the nearly dozen Drive Zone instructors average 20 years of teaching experience, including additional training and certification, and are committed to a proven in-car instruction specifically designed for the new driver. Tom Zachary and co-owner Joshua Smith, 28, Hollywood, Calif., opened Drive Zone in April 2004 at 916 E. Main St., Suite 115. The Hoosier Motor Club's budding driving-school network is one of the pilot projects being implemented this year by five motor clubs across the nation, said Greg Seiter, the Hoosier Motor Club's public affairs manager. The aim, according to Hoosier Motor Club officials, is geared toward improving the quality of driver-education programs and encouraging more teenagers to participate. The Hoosier Motor Club cites the Indiana Department of Education's assertion that fewer than 45 percent of eligible new drivers take classes before applying for a driver's license. State law does not require they do so. Also, the Department of Education has noticed fewer public schools offer driver education programs because the Indiana General Assembly in 1980 stopped funding those programs. Zachary, 53, a Perry Township resident, has a long background in driver instruction. From 1984 to 1998, he partnered with Tom Sneva, the 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner, to own and operate the Tom Sneva School of Safe Driving in Greenwood. That driving school was sold in 1998 to Top Driver, a corporation that has multiple sites in the Indianapolis area, including Greenwood. Zachary's experience in driver instruction began more than three decades ago when he taught driver-education classes at Shelbyville High School. He taught biology from 1974 to 1984 at Shelbyville and also was its head track and cross country coach. He taught biology at Southport High School from 1984 to 1998. For three years after selling the Tom Sneva School of Safe Driving, Zachary went to work for Top Driver. His Drive Zone business uses a curriculum offered by AAA. The school offers a variety of times with 30 hours of classroom and six hours of individual in-car instruction. Information is available by calling (317) 884-0825 or by Web site at "Through the surveys we conducted during the affiliation process, we found that students who have taken Drive Zone classes have been very pleased," said Bob Hendrickson, leader of the Hoosier Motor Club's new network. Linda Straw, 52, Homecroft in Perry Township, works as an instructor at Drive Zone. "I took courses as part of a graduate degree," she said of driver education. She has a master's in elementary physical education. She said she worked at Top Driver in Greenwood when Zachary worked there and agreed to join him at his Drive Zone when it opened. "One of the things I like about it," she said of Drive Zone, "is it's a small business, and I can talk to the main man." She described Zachary as flexible and said he's always trying to improve driver safety instruction. While focused on teenage novice drivers, she said, Drive Zone also attracts some adults, particularly those who have moved here from other nations. Drive Zone, said Zachary and Straw, emphasizes that parents have some involvement to see first-hand the driving instruction given to their children. "We suggest that parents come at least once," said Straw, adding they can sit in class or ride in the car during instruction. Kaitlin Wolak, 15, entering her sophomore year at Franklin Central High School, said she and her friends consider driver education important. She has just completed a course at Drive Zone in plenty of time before she can apply for a driver's license in January after reaching age 16. Some of her friends, she said, took courses at Drive Zone, and others at other area driving schools. Wolak said her learning experiences at Drive Zone have been rewarding, adding, "They make you feel pretty comfortable here." Call Star reporter William Booher at (317) 444-2706. Copyright (c) The Indianapolis Star. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc. Record Number: ind83361711