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Driver Education Is Urged Following Oregon Accidents

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A rash of teenage deaths in automobile accidents and growing concern about the qualifications of instructors have prompted Oregon legislators and education officials to place renewed emphasis on driver-education programs.

Several measures are pending in the Oregon legislature that would mandate driver-training programs for all high-school students.

Meanwhile, the state board of education may take steps this week to tighten its regulations on the number of traffic violations high-school instructors can incur before being suspended from their posts, said Del Freeman, a traffic-safety education specialist for the state education department.

Other pending bills would prohibit teenagers from receiving a driver's license until age 18 if they fail to pass a driver-education course, forbid them from driving between the hours of midnight and 5 A.M., and limit the number of teenagers who can ride in one car.

Mr. Freeman said the heightened concern about driver education stems from a series of car crashes that claimed the lives of 21 teenagers in December alone. The worst accident killed six, and two others killed five and four each.

During extensive media coverage that followed, a local television station conducted a survey questioning whether driver-education courses should be mandatory. According to Mr. Freeman, 80 percent of the 6,000 respondents supported the proposed requirement.

Mr. Freeman said the rash of fatalities also came at a time when the state board was considering a proposed regulation that would4limit the number of violations the state's 450 driver-education instructors could receive before losing their jobs.

Two years ago, he said, he randomly checked the driving records of 45 instructors and found that three had their license suspended. Last year, he found five more instructors with suspended licenses, some of whom had failed to renew their licenses.

Under the proposed rule, driver-education instructors could receive no more than two moving violations within a 12-month period.

Mr. Freeman estimated that 25 instructors would be suspended from their jobs for a year if the rule were adopted.

"Driver education teachers should be models to their students," he said.

The state official said he also hoped that lawmakers would vote to give the state board authority over local driver-education curricula.

"If you can't spell well, you take a spelling course," Mr. Freeman said. "If you can't drive well, you take a course in driver education. That's the way it should be."

Currently, principals may assign teachers to instruct the course even if they have had no training in driver education. He also said the curriculum should emphasize drug- and alcohol-abuse prevention.

Funding could be a problem, Mr. Freeman noted, if the legislature votes to make driver education mandatory. The state now pays $1.2 million for such courses.

Currently, 11,000 Oregon students are enrolled in driver-education courses. If the program is made a requirement, the number would increase to 33,000.--nm

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