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updated: 7/13/2014 6:02 AM

Teen driving book offers 'not-so-common' knowledge

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  • Naperville authors Paul Zientarski and John Harmata soon will publish a book directed toward teen drivers and their parents that they say contains "The Unwritten Rules of the Road."

       Naperville authors Paul Zientarski and John Harmata soon will publish a book directed toward teen drivers and their parents that they say contains "The Unwritten Rules of the Road."
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Naperville authors John Harmata and Paul Zientarski say their book "What Teenage Drivers Don't Know: The Unwritten Rules of the Road" will be used by driver's education classes at Naperville Central, Naperville North and Neuqua Valley high schools once it is published in late September.

       Naperville authors John Harmata and Paul Zientarski say their book "What Teenage Drivers Don't Know: The Unwritten Rules of the Road" will be used by driver's education classes at Naperville Central, Naperville North and Neuqua Valley high schools once it is published in late September.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • "What Teenage Drivers Don't Know: The Unwritten Rules of the Road" is set to be available in late September, the product of two Naperville men who want to improve teen driver safety.

       "What Teenage Drivers Don't Know: The Unwritten Rules of the Road" is set to be available in late September, the product of two Naperville men who want to improve teen driver safety.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Video: driversedbook

 
 

A 15-year-old with a driving permit sits behind the wheel for the first time.

He's taking driver's ed, he's got a parent next to him, and he's ready to drive.

But there's still plenty he doesn't know about the hazards of the road, say the authors of a new resource for teenage drivers and their parents.

Two Naperville men have compiled tips about driving in poor conditions, parking, vehicle maintenance, surviving the unexpected and even navigating the court system. Their book is called "What Teenage Drivers Don't Know: The Unwritten Rules of the Road."

John Harmata, the primary author, says the book's beginnings came from a crazy couple of years he spent after high school driving across the country as a professional skater on a roller derby team. He faced snowy mountains and the rainy Northwest and country roads with no center line, and he lived to tell the tale and settle in Naperville.

When his children learned to drive, Harmata, now 60, used past experiences to teach his son and daughter how to handle roadside hazards.

"I've driven through the worst of the worst across the country as far as weather conditions go, traffic conditions, everything," Harmata said. "I can safely teach my kids things that are not being taught in driver's ed classes, that you only learn by years of experience."

Things like: Never get in the way of a car that needs extensive bodywork. Or don't speed down curved highway ramps, but increase speed gradually. Or if the hood flies up while driving, look through the crack between the hood and the body of the car or out the side window until it's safe to stop.

Harmata is self-publishing "The Unwritten Rules" with Paul Zientarski, a 67-year-old retired driver's ed instructor and department chairman at Naperville Central High School. Zientarski says he and Harmata want to provide resources to dispel the mistaken teenage belief that they are "invincible, immortal."

"Anytime you can arm people with information, it's a good thing," Zientarski said.

While Zientarski was teaching, classes referred to an early version of "The Unwritten Rules." But when he retired, it went out of use. A few years later, he and Harmata reconnected and began developing an 11-chapter guide set to be available by late September and sold on amazon.com.

"The hope is this book will have them pause and think about the different situations that they're in," Zientarski said.

Common knowledge

Driver's education classes are regulated by the Illinois secretary of state and must provide 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of behind-the-wheel training.

At Adams School of Driving, which has locations across the suburbs, including Arlington Heights and Libertyville, President Kathy Clausen said students learn rules of the road, vehicle maintenance, the hazards of distracted driving, how to share the road with bikes, motorcycles and tractor-trailers and how to make proper reverse, forward and turning motions.

"We cover everything you can think of about road safety and proper handling," Clausen said.

Harmata said "The Unwritten Rules" goes into more detail than what is required by the state and provides "not-so-common knowledge" about safe driving. The authors present the information in list form with 85 photos to keep readers' attention.

A chapter on parking lot hazards, for example, shows how fragments of broken glass appear on pavement and gives tips to avoid cars, children, seniors, pets, potholes, shopping carts and snow.

"This book doesn't just generalize the rules of the road, it gets into little things that you just don't come across every day," Harmata said. "As a new driver, this will alert you to ... things they don't teach in the classroom."

One topic not commonly covered in driver's education is how to navigate traffic court. Harmata and Zientarski added the "Your Day in Court" chapter after running a draft of the book by Naperville City Prosecutor Mike DiSanto.

DiSanto suggested they add a guide to traffic court, explaining which cases need an attorney, how to make a case to a prosecutor and how a guilty verdict would affect a teen's future.

"It's all about trying to avoid issues ahead of time," DiSanto said about the book. "It talks about distracted driving and parking lot etiquette and things to look out for, which I really believe are so useful to these young drivers."

Clausen said Adams School of Driving does not discuss traffic court; instructors focus on keeping teens out of trouble by telling them to watch their speed and leave plenty of space between cars. If a driver younger than 18 lands in court, a parent will be required to attend and the teen's progress through the graduated driver's license program could be delayed.

'A parent guidebook'

Harmata and Zientarski have been networking with educators and pitching "The Unwritten Rules" to schools as they prepare for publication.

The authors imagine their book as a supplement to textbooks for students across the country, but the first three high schools to use it will be Naperville Central, Naperville North and Neuqua Valley in Naperville. Harmata said he has received some interest from the state of Indiana in adding the book to driver preparation materials used there.

Steve Scott, past president of the Illinois High School & College Driver Education Association, said even parents can benefit from facts in the book about hazards of letting a friend borrow a teen's car or how to help teens survive highway driving.

"It's going to be a very good book for driver's ed programs to give to parents as a parent guidebook," Scott said. "Sometimes the parents are too much in a hurry to get the kid out on the road. They need to be more in touch and more involved."

Naperville Mayor George Pradel, a retired "Officer Friendly" known for his safety efforts on behalf of children, called the book an extension of the approach he used to take, one of acting as a friend to young people by explaining to them the way the world works.

"I'm thrilled with the vision they have because they're dealing with young people in a different way, trying to give them some insight as to what could happen in the future and how they could avoid that," Pradel said. "If people will just take the time to read it, they could learn so much because it gives you a lot of good advice."

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