In NC, Driver’s Ed May Be Reserved For the Rich

9731139381_fc8e615d08_kTwo Wake County teens killed in head-on crash. Hertford County 19-year-old dies after losing control of vehicle on icy road. Hickory high school football player killed in car crash.

These are just a few of the headlines in recent months from teen drivers killed in car accidents in North Carolina. According to the CDC, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, claiming an average of seven teenage lives every day. N.C. Department of Transportation data from 2012 shows that North Carolina teens were involved in 40,717 crashes leading to more than 9,000 injuries and 71 deaths.

We know teens are at greater risk of accident and injury while driving cars. They have less experience behind the wheel. Their judgment is sometimes less than stellar. And, frankly, they are easily distracted.

So, why is the North Carolina Senate trying to end driver’s ed?

The Senate’s budget plan would end funding for driver’s education programs in public schools and instead move driver’s ed to community colleges. It would also lift the $65.00 cap on what a student can be charged for the class, allowing schools to charge for the actual cost, estimated to be $300.00 or more.

In order to be “fair” to those who might not be able to afford the increased costs, the Senate approved an amendment lifting the requirement that students take driver’s education in order to get a license. Instead, teens need only complete 85 hours of driving with a parent – an increase from the current requirement of 60 hours – and score at least 85 on the written driver’s education test.

To buck up their stance, senators are citing a report by legislative staff that found that some students who take driver’s ed still fail the written test. From 2007/2008 to 2012/2013, students who took the course had an average failure rate of 46 percent.

That’s not good. But it shows we need more education and training for our young drivers, not less. If 46 percent of teenagers failed after taking driver’s ed, how many will fail without it?

I’ll confess. I was one of those kids that needed all the help I could get when learning to drive – mostly because I was terrified of the responsibility of driving a car (and possibly a little overwhelmed by all the things to keep track of at once). Through no fault of my parents’, I just couldn’t learn from them. In fact, I still have terrible flashbacks to practice sessions whenever I drive my dad somewhere. There was too much emotion, too much fear and, well, too much yelling (on both our parts).

Without a driving course, my parents, and lots of practice, I would probably have never gotten a license. Or I would have gotten a license and driven like a skittish maniac.

Putting all the responsibility for teaching kids how to drive on the shoulders of already busy parents isn’t a good idea. My son is just like me and my daughter is a daredevil so I already dread teaching them to drive. Good thing I’ve told my husband he’s responsible for teaching.

No offense to parents of teenagers, but how many are really logging all the practice driving hours for which they must sign? Parents are busy, and 60 hours are a lot of hours to invest and track. I have friends with teenagers, and I know the pressure they are under to just sign the DMV papers.

North Carolina needs to do right by our teens, by parents, and by drivers everywhere. Not only should driver’s ed stay in public schools, it should be made as affordable as possible. Improve it. Add more accountability. Track more data.

But, please keep driver’s ed. For all our sakes.

Sara LangSara Lang has worked in North Carolina politics at the state, federal, and local levels for more than 15 years. A communications consultant, she lives in Cary with her husband, two young children, and a pampered dog.




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