Lawmakers discuss pulling plug on driver's ed

April 12, 2010 8:33:25 PM PDT
Teen drivers are often vilified for bad habits behind the wheel, but on Monday the program meant to teach kids how to drive took a big pounding at the state legislature.One lawmaker says the state's driver's education course shows an "eye-opening lack of supervision."

"If we are not going to give them quality, then we ought to pull the plug," Rep. Nelson Cole said.

North Carolina is one of just eight states which pays for the entire cost of driver's ed course. The state simply hands over more than $30 million a year, about $234 per student, to local school systems to run whatever kind of drivers ed program they want.

Some schools have coaches that moonlight as drivers ed instructors, while some schools hire outside companies to run the program.

However the program, led by the state Department of Public Instruction, has no standard curriculum. And there is no clear evidence that driver's ed reduces crash rates.

Before a 16 or 17-year-old gets a North Carolina driver's license, the teen needs to pass drivers ed, which is 30 hours in the classroom and 12 hours behind the wheel with an instructor.

"If drivers' education is not shown to work in reducing crash rates, why would we want to continue funding it," Rep. Hugh Blackwell said.

Lawmakers would like a driver's ed program that is proven to work, because while 16 and 17-year-olds make up less than 2 percent of drivers, they are involved in 7 percent of crashes and 5 percent of fatal wrecks.

"They're just always blasting music, texting, on their cell phone," Garner resident Josh Hiller said. "I almost got hit last week by one."

Lawmakers have talked about ending the state subsidy. However, after a rough report stated North Carolina's drivers ed is not accountable to any highway safety goals, lawmakers backed away from ideas of cutting the $30 million funding.

Many said it was not realistic to mandate drivers ed on teens and families and also make them pay the full cost.

"If you separate the haves from the have-not that's what you will have on the road, those who can afford to pay for driver's ed will be the only ones who are driving," said William Powell with the Jordan Driving School.

Powell says an open market drivers' ed tuition might cost $300.

"That's too much, too much and then for a class which you might fail," one student said. "Then you gotta repay again. That's too much."

Some students say that would make it hard to work at job or extra-curricular activity after school.

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