- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The fate of driver education in North Carolina looms uncertain as legislators ironing out the budget weigh whether to continue the program’s funding, or possibly end the requirement for teenagers to take driving classes altogether.

Under the proposed Senate budget approved earlier this month, public school districts would still be required to offer drivers education classes for another year. But without state funding, the cost limit of $65 could grow to as much as $400 in some counties. The plan would also give money to the State Board of Community Colleges to develop a plan for taking over the program and its costs.

Citing concern for families forced to pay out-of-pocket, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, introduced an amendment to the budget ending the state’s requirement for drivers under the age of 18 to take driver’s education before receiving their license. Instead, teens would have to log 25 more hours in the car with their parents and score five percentage points higher on the written test.

The House budget would plan to keep the driver’s education publicly subsidized. It would renew last year’s $24.6 million spent on driver education for one year, and then set up an annual fund for the program paid for by late vehicle registration fees.

Patrick Florio, an instructor for Jordan’s Driving School who teaches driving courses at Raleigh’s Athens Drive High School, lamented that increased costs would drive away students at the school, where 41 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Some students would simply wait until they are 18 and do not have to go through any learning program to get their license, he said.

“If we don’t have a high school program, families will have to look elsewhere,” Florio said. “As a state, we all suffer.”

Becklee Niemchak, the mother of a 15-year-old in Florio’s class, said she sent three of her kids through public driving classes, and even paid for more expensive courses offered by BMW for her two oldest children.

“I’m not a teacher,” Niemchak said. “They learn things that I would have never thought to mention or teach.”

Hise agreed the knowledge gained in driver’s education courses was valuable, but said the state’s licensing laws already require students to build up road experience before earning their full license.

“Where you are seeing the real safety improvements is from the graduated license program,” Hise said.

North Carolina was one of the first two states to implement a graduated licensing program in 1997, and in the ten years after 1999 saw teen fatality rates drop 40 percent, according to a 2014 review by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Committee. But many other states have also begun implementing such programs, and North Carolina’s teen fatality rate was higher than the national average in 2010.

According to the Program Evaluation Committee’s review, 33 percent of students who completed the course failed the written driver’s test between 2012 and 2013. That was a 26 percentage point decrease from five years prior, when 59 percent of students failed the test.

Florio said he focuses his classes on safe driving techniques and accident avoidance, while the written test is geared toward traffic law and road signs. He said he encourages students to practice extra for the test outside of class.

“My perspective is give them the things they are not going to hear elsewhere,” Florio said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide