Driver’s Education Hits Speed Bump
Rural counties scramble to meet Georgia’s new rules.
A new Georgia law designed to improve safety among teenage drivers is proving difficult to implement, especially in rural areas.
Passed during the 2005 legislative session, the measure requires 16-year-olds to take 30 hours of classroom instruction in driver’s education and 40 hours of supervised driving experience with a parent or certified instructor in the car in order to get their licenses. The law took effect Jan. 1, and rural counties—which are less likely than those in urban areas to have driver’s education programs of any kind—are now scrambling to meet the demand.
As recently as two decades ago, driver’s education was part of the curriculum at most Georgia high schools, but funding for the program ran out. Now even if schools have the courses, they are often after-school or summer programs, and parents also are sometimes charged a fee.
According to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, only about half the state’s 159 counties have an approved driver’s education program. Some are offered by school districts, but programs also are provided by private companies. The state even has approved three “virtual” training courses.
Some financial help for districts has been available because of a 5 percent surcharge on all traffic fines that the state began collecting when the law passed. But in 2006, only $2.7 million was collected, and the fee will sunset in 2008.
“That’s not enough to actually put driver’s education back in the schools,” said Maria Dorough, the department’s division director for regulatory compliance, and the department has no such goal.
Unlike many Georgia school systems, the 21,000-student Coweta County district, south of Atlanta, provides funding to offer a full driver’s education course at each of its three high schools, as well as an evening course at a charter school.
“We have enough demand that we are looking at some other possibilities, including adding a Saturday course,” said spokesman Dean Jackson.
Of course, students can opt to skip the classroom training altogether if they would rather wait until they turn 17 to get behind the wheel. But even then, the 40 hours of supervised driving, including six hours at night, is still required for a driver’s license.
Vol. 26, Issue 24, Page 22