Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Legislators want to kill driver education

I protested decades ago when North Carolina eliminated straight-drive transmissions from driver training. Student drivers go to drive automatics, which I said turned driver education into "steering education." The hardest part of the course — starting out without choking down or rolling backward on a hill — had been eliminated. I lost that battle and can now acknowledge that it makes little sense to teach a skill that is unneeded in 98% of the cars on the road.

But now the General Assembly wants to eliminate driver ed. I can't see how that improves things. If you think 16-year-olds are going to learn driving skills and good habits through osmosis, you're wrong. Driving is not all that difficult most of the time, but it does require some skills and some learned habits. Younger drivers who haven't developed the experience and good habits end up in accidents, sometimes fatal ones.

The legislators' plan is to have parents substitute for driver ed teachers. That's not a good idea. Many parents have developed bad habits or have simply forgotten the subtle skills needed for safe driving, and they will teach bad habits and mistaken thinking to their children.

Legislators have been trying to cut the costs of driver ed for years. While wasteful spending is never a good idea, quality driver ed costs are not wasted. Those costs are paid back in reduced accidents and highway deaths. Formal driver education is a necessity in a state where millions of cars are on the road, speed limits hit 70 mph on many highways, and other drivers aren't always observant, skilled or rational.

Driver education is an investment in the health and well-being of citizens. Isn't that what state government should be doing?

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