Many of us who went to school in the “old days” fondly remember high school Driver’s Education class, with hands-on training offered by the school during summer months or outside of regular school hours during the fall and spring semesters.
Some may be surprised to know that the availability of such classes in public schools is largely a thing of the past, done away with almost completely after having been standard curriculum 30 years ago. In the 1970’s, 95% of eligible students took Driver’s Ed. Now, about 15% enroll in the class according to Allen Robinson, CEO of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association. Many young drivers, however, find instruction from driving schools to be too inconvenient or cost prohibitive.
University of North Carolina’s director, Robert Foss, says that more school-based training may help reduce the high number of teen deaths due to auto accidents, which is currently around 3,000 each year.
“We’re on the cusp of a renaissance of driver’s education here in this country,” says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
A few examples of the public school driver’s education comeback according to USA Today include:
• The number of high school driver’s ed. programs in Georgia has increased 22% to 150 since the state required that any 16-year-old seeking a driver’s license after Jan. 1, 2007, complete a state-approved driver’s ed. course.
• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has questioned the effectiveness of driver’s ed. since a landmark 1983 study, now supports new guidelines calling for more classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel training.
• Parents in several states who lost teen drivers in crashes are pushing to restore or improve driver’s ed. Penney Gentile of Cooperstown, N.Y., lost her son, Chris, 18, in a 2007 crash. “Driver’s ed. would have been helpful to him,” she says.
• Texas enacted a law Sept. 1 requiring police investigating crashes involving new drivers to determine whether they took driver’s ed. in a public or commercial school or learned from their parents.
• Some cities are looking for new ways to pay for driver’s ed. Chattanooga, Tenn., plans to use revenue from traffic camera fines to fund a pilot program, says spokesman Richard Beeland. The push for driver’s ed. comes even as the number of 15- to 20-year-old drivers killed in crashes annually fell 5% to 3,174 from 1997 to 2007.