On Tuesday morning, I was traveling from a breakfast meeting in Apex back to my office in Zebulon, when I saw three cars whiz past me on I-440, cutting from one lane to another and weaving through the heavy traffic. I glanced down at my speedometer to see if I was going slower than I realized, but it read 72 mph. Traffic was moving along at the posted speed limit. I watched those three cars until I lost sight of them, but I was amazed at how aggressively they were changing lanes in just the smallest of gaps between vehicles, then putting on their brakes as they approached the next car moving slower than they were.
It got me to thinking about the current situation with the driver’s education program. Wake County and nearly two dozen other counties in North Carolina have suspended their programs over questions about future funding. The General Assembly has yet to adopt a budget and give local governments a clear picture of what the state is going to spend on driver’s ed – and a lot of other state-funded initiatives.
Suspension of the driver’s ed program in Wake County means there are some students who have taken the classroom portion of the class, but who can not now take the driving portion – that part of the class that is so much more important to young drivers once they get out on the road. Once the state does approve its budget, county school systems will have to decide whether they want to remain in the driver’s education business or leave that to private enterprise.
Regardless, the idea of poorly-trained drivers – like the three people I saw Tuesday – scares the dickens out of me. My children won’t like me saying this, but they aren’t great drivers. In fact, it scares me to be in a car with them sometimes. I worry like a new mother every time I hear one of them say they are going to Raleigh.
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I say all that knowing our children started driving long before they took driver’s education. We took both our girls to the farm in Martin County and from an early age, let them drive the paths around the farm. Speeds never got very high, but they learned to handle a manual transmission and they learned how to back up a car and turn around. They learned to avoid obstacles in the roadway and how to keep the vehicle moving in a straight line without drifting wildly from one side of the path to the other.
Then they took driver’s ed.
And I still don’t think it was enough.
The state of North Carolina already allows teens to avoid driver’s eduction entirely, though it makes those people wait until they are 18 to apply for a driver’s license. One proposal would allow drivers younger than 18 to apply for their license so long as they score really high on the DMV written test and submit to more hours of driving with the accompaniment an adult.
It goes without saying that no government has all the money it wants to do all the things that all the people want. Legislators have to make decisions about what to pay for and what not to pay for. School system leaders have to do the same thing. I worry though, that what we are seeing is a shift away from funding common sense, safety-net kinds of priorities to economics-based, rich-people-taking-care-of-their-rich-friends kinds of priorities.
I’ve been driving for more than 30 years and it took my breath away on Tuesday morning to watch those three cars putting themselves and all the traffic around them in danger because of their erratic and fast driving.
And in a state where the population growth continues to outpace our ability to build better roads, that means you and I are going to find ourselves sharing the road with some awful drivers and, ultimately paying a price that just seems too high.