Editorials

Road outrage: no driver’s ed

Jordan Driving School instructor Robert Escamilla talks with student driver Courtney Barron, a rising sophomore at Cary High School in June.
Jordan Driving School instructor Robert Escamilla talks with student driver Courtney Barron, a rising sophomore at Cary High School in June. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Driver’s education programs save lives and certainly make all roads safer for North Carolinians. These are undeniable truths. And yet, in their blind blustering about cost-cutting even as the state’s economy improves, Republican state senators have moved to eliminate driver’s education and shift it to community colleges, where families will have to pay up to $400 for courses.

This is woefully misguided. And Republicans, who have come to power believing they have some kind of mandate to do whatever they want, are about to reap the consequences.

Wake County has announced it is suspending its driver’s education program because of uncertainty about funding. Would that Republican senators were on occasion afflicted with a moment of self-doubt. If they were, they might reconsider this foolish maneuver. House members, who’ve emerged as the more reasonable voices, preserved the program. Some 120,000 high school students take driver’s education every year.

As it stands, driver’s education is mandatory for anyone under age 18 who wants a learner’s permit. Students take 30 hours of classroom instruction and do six hours behind the wheel. Under the state’s graduated licensing program, those students also are supposed to spend more time driving with parents. It’s a good, sound program that has served the state with distinction.

Republicans are going to hear about this from the grassroots, and they’re going to find that their standard response to those who question them, “We are in charge,” isn’t going to fly with angry parents. Who knows? Something this short-sighted, and potentially dangerous, may cost a few senators their seats.

Because this kind of budget-cutting hits home – and every home with a young driver. Absent driver’s education, after all, those who reach 18 and haven’t had that instructional time will get their licenses and will not be as adept behind the wheel. That’s bad news for all drivers, period.

Ending funding for driver’s ed is one of the best illustrations of just how far removed Republican senators are from the interests of those they represent.

But sooner or later, they have to go home. Sooner or later, they have to stand for re-election. And sooner or later, they’re going to be in meetings with constituents whose kids were denied driver’s education. They won’t like it.

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