Garner: Opinion

July 3, 2014

Editorial: Defunding driver’s ed

Defunding driver’s education may save the state some money in the short term, but the long-term effects could be significant.

A state Senate proposal to defund driver’s education could mean trouble on the state’s highways and byways if it passes.

The plan would move the money now spent on driver’s education from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Public Instruction, where administrators are already dealing with a 6 percent cut to school bus funding. DPI would be able to spend the money on driver’s education programs if it chooses, or it could choose to replace the lost school bus funding.

Right now, high school students and their parents pay a fee for driver’s education – as much as $55. Passing the classroom and the driving portion of the program entitles a student driver to apply for a leaner’s permit as the first step in a graduated licensing program which requires an additional 60 hours of behind the wheel work with an experienced driver. Students who complete that work can apply for a full license which requires still more training behind the wheel before the driver is free to drive whereever they want whenever they want.

All told, student drivers who follow through on the program spend well over 100 hours learning how to drive at the elbow of an experienced driver.

When state officials raised the cap on driver’s education fees from $45 to $55, driver’s education programs saw a 10 percent decrease in the number of students who took part in the program. Under current law, a teenager can opt out of the driver’s education program altogether and simply go to DMV and get a license on their 18th birthday without any training whatsoever.

Under the Senate’s proposal, counties would be allowed to charge the true cost of the driver’s education program, which could run as high as $300.

To be sure, if that happens, more students will opt out of driver’s education as the cost goes up.

Unfortunately, that will mean more inexperienced drivers on our roadways, a factor that endangers us all.

Young drivers account for an abnormally high percentage of car crashes on our roadways now. North Carolina is not unique in that regard. Experience in any activity is a trait that pays dividends. Unlike a ball team, or a workplace, however, the dangers of the highway can have life-altering ramifications.

We understand that this General Assembly was elected with a mandate to change the way government operates. They’ve certainly done that. They have largely gutted every human service program in government, all with an eye toward helping businesses succeed and make more money.

In most cases, we don’t believe those decisions have been wise ones.

Turning inexperienced drivers loose on our roadways is just another example of legislators who aren’t worried about the human toll of their actions. It’s bad government.

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