More investment is needed in driver education

A bad car accident Monday on Capital Boulevard in which one teenager was killed and four were hurt was not the only accident involving teens in recent weeks. The accidents have prompted the N.C. School Boards Association to call for more funding for driver education.

That’s all the more pertinent because the General Assembly, in a foolhardy move, cut off state funding for driver’s education effective July of next year. As a result, some school districts might try to charge the full cost of a driver’s education course – in some cases several hundred dollars. With the state dollars coming in, schools have been charging a fraction of the true costs.

Teen drivers are high-risk. Their parents know it, and insurance companies certainly know it. It should not take accidents in which young people are killed or injured to prompt lawmakers to reverse course on driver’s education funding.

If families are forced to pay the entire cost, driver’s education could become something available exclusively to more affluent students. The families of students with lower incomes might find a $300 fee prohibitive, forcing those students to wait until age 18 to get licenses.

N.C. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata, a former Wake County schools superintendent, knows well the hazards young drivers pose, and that’s why in his current position he’s advocating a renewed push for safety awareness. After a young driver this week failed to stop for a stopped school bus and injured another child, Tata said, “Educating teen drivers on potential hazards behind the wheel is critical to the safety of our roadways.” Tata said DOT would work with the state Department of Public Instruction to improve safety messages.

That’s important, but the tradition of the state’s paying for driver’s ed through the Highway Trust Fund was a good one, and it should be continued. Lawmakers should see from these latest accidents that the funding cuts were ill-advised and should be restored.

These are young lives at stake. And while young people also benefit from their parents’ taking them out on roadways to get some experience, the combination of classroom work and in-the-car training provided by driver’s ed courses is vital. The courses educate and sometimes give youngsters a healthy dose of caution by scaring them a little.

That the state should help pay to reduce the chance that a young person will make a fatal mistake behind the wheel that might have been prevented with responsible education is a clear truth that any legislator, Republican or Democrat, ought to be able to see.

Parents, along with safety lobbyists and the school boards group, should pressure their lawmakers. This is vital. This is life-saving.