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Driving Manual Aimed At Teens

It's not the "cover of the Rolling Stone," of Top-40 fame, but Lake Braddock junior KC Pfiffner found herself on the cover of Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) "Adventures of Driving: Survive the Ride" manual, a publication aimed at first-time drivers.

Packed in the car with Pfiffner was Lake Braddock classmate Chris Mauthe, Manassas sophomore Christina White and VDOT administrative assistant Bernard Spriggs. Pfiffner hopes her younger brother, Morgan, will use the manual as reference when he gets his license. She wishes she’d had it at times.

"My friend and I drive places and always get lost. It would have been helpful," she said.

Her mother, Deb, liked the how-to aspect of the manual and thinks Morgan will benefit in the near future as well.

"I'm very impressed. It's much more involved than I thought it would be. He's [Morgan] going to read this," she said.

"Adventures in Driving" is a publication sponsored by VDOT as an "introduction to safe driving," as stated in the preface. The 32-page publication is set up in a Web-page computer-icon format, arranged with an appeal aimed at the pre-drivers, aged 14-16. Sections include "Hit the Road," "Care for Your Car," "Follow the Signs," "Drive Attentively," "Go with the Flow," "Stay Focused," "Give 'em a Brake," "Get a Grip," "Keep it Together," "Expect the Unexpected," "Dying to Drive," "Do Unto Others," and a quiz at the end. Other students involved were West Springfield sophomore Emily Tomlinson, Manny Lamanza, Zach Wright and VDOT intern Brian Munoz.

There are computer-type icons on every page, pictures, boxed text, lists, local pictures and maps in an easy-to-read format. The teens at local scenes are featured throughout.

Steve Titunik, a public affairs spokesman for VDOT, was a driving force behind the publication. It started out as a manual for drivers in the Springfield Interchange area and evolved as a safety manual aimed at first-time drivers. The death of Titunik's son, Michael, in November 2001 was a factor in the transition.

"When I wrote the grant up, I wrote it for a different thing, but after Michael died ... ," Titunik said. "If it saves lives, then wonderful."

"Kids are in that big risk factor," he added.

The grant was through the U.S. Department of Transportation, administered by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

VDOT public affairs spokesperson Jennifer Finstein worked with Titunik.

"These books stand alone. It's designed to mirror some of the curriculum they would get in driver’s ed," she said.

She created another manual last year in the form of an activity book aimed at first- through fourth-graders and assembled a program last year focusing on safety in work zones. She researched other states' efforts in this direction.

"A lot of departments of transportation are increasing their outreach in work zones," she said.

Jennifer Sieck, a former VDOT employee, also suffered a fatality in her family. She participated in the efforts behind the book as well.

"I helped with editing and brainstorming. Anything I can do to help prevent a loss for anyone," she said.

Tom Farley, VDOT's Northern Virginia District administrator, wrote the introduction and was on hand for the unveiling of the final copy, Friday, Dec. 6.

"It includes the people who are the age that get into the accidents. The message will ring louder and truer. It's not just the driver, it's the friends of the driver, the siblings of the driver. This age group thinks they're invincible," Farley said.

AT THE UNVEILING, the participants flipped through the pages, and some of the pictures brought back memories from last summer, when they were out on the road with the camera. On Page 7, titled "Give 'Em a Brake," the students were at the intersection of Lee Chapel Road and Old Keene Mill Road, the site of a lengthy intersection road project. KC remembered setting up to get the flashing merge-arrow in the shot.

"We were deliberating how to get that in the picture," KC said.

Page 12, "Do Unto Others," dealt with pedestrians. Several of the students are crossing the street, while their yellow Dodge Neon, which was on loan from Jerry's Dodge in Springfield, was traversing the intersection. KC remembered doing a few takes for that shot, and on the page, there are two exposures.

"You got a lot of strange looks going back and forth," she said.

Emily Tomlinson is a sophomore at West Springfield. On Page 6, she was behind the wheel with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other. That's a familiar scene around the Springfield roads, and one thing she now looks out for, "if you see someone making a turn on the cell phone," she said.

Tomlinson doesn't have her license yet, but "I'll study this before I go take the test," she said.

KC's mother, Deb Pfiffner, liked the concept on Page 6.

"I thought this was a good idea to get across. I don't think they learn a drink or the radio is a distraction," she said.

Pictures of the students doing these activities will sink in, Titunik thought.

"We wanted it to be from kid to kid," he said.

INITIALLY 20,000 of the books are being printed, and Finstein plans on distributing them to several area schools as well as distributing them at selected VDOT locations, including the Interchange Information office at Springfield Mall. She hopes to get them to the physical education classes in the schools.

"My plan is to send copies to all the high-school principals. The teachers just have to pass them out," she said.

Titunik considered publisher Chicken & Egg Public Projects after its production of "Me, Myself and Infrastructure," which featured the building of the Springfield Interchange highway project. It also was constructed with pictures and lists, for easy reading. He referred to it as "high graphic, high impact, similar to computer-based games and Web sites. We knew what we wanted to have in there. I like their graphics, their approach," he said.

The project began in January with the formation of a focus group, which produced an outline in about April. The photographer, Finstein and students involved, did all the photograph work over the summer, composed the text in September, submitted a draft in November. The final printed editions arrived at the Interchange Information office on Dec. 6.

"The whole process has taken about a year," said Finstein.