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Rethinking driver's education

JC Bowman, Professional Educators of Tennessee • Apr 12, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

With that little phrase, we are off to the races to get to our morning destination — work, school or other location. I have been driving since I was 13 years old, and legally since I was 16. I have never seen worse drivers in my lifetime, all across the state and nation. Every time I get behind the wheel I say a silent prayer, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me be run over by the idiots today and keep me and others safe out there.”

I remember when driving a vehicle was a privilege, first granted to me by my parents and then recognized by those who issued a license. In fact, driving a car is not a right promised to every person, but rather a privilege granted to people who complete certain requirements.

In the legal arena, even the U.S. Supreme Court says that citizens do not have a fundamental “right to drive.” In Dixon v. Love, 431 U.S. 105, 112-16, 97 S.Ct. 1723, 52 L.Ed.2d 172 (1977), the Supreme Court held that a state could summarily suspend or revoke the license of a motorist who had been repeatedly convicted of traffic offenses with due process satisfied by a full administrative hearing available only after the suspension or revocation had taken place. The Court conspicuously did not afford the possession of a driver's license the weight of a fundamental right. (See also Mackey v. Montrym, 443 U.S. 1, 10, 99 S.Ct. 2612, 61 L.Ed.2d 321 (1979); Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 539, 542-43, 91 S.Ct. 1586, 29 L.Ed.2d 90 (1971).)

Tennessee does mandate that in order to get an Intermediate Driver’s License, a minor must have certified 50 hours of supervised behind-the-wheel experience, including 10 hours at night. The Tennessee Department of Safety only requires students to complete a driver's education course if they have been convicted of multiple moving violations while they are operating on their intermediate restricted license. It is time to re-think that policy. It is currently not a requirement in order for a minor child to obtain a permit or license to successfully complete a driver's education course. Nobody disputes that it is an important resource that can help students become responsible and safe drivers. Should we restrict student access on our school campuses until they can prove to be responsible and safe drivers? Should a driver's education course be required? How can we prove or truly verify the supervised behind the behind-the-wheel or night experience?

From a school safety perspective, school district policy should require a student pass a driver’s education course before being allowed to drive to/from school or park their vehicle on school grounds. This class could also be offered during the summer or through any of the legitimate driving schools across the state. The objective should not be to save parents a few dollars on auto insurance, it must be to improve driving, reduce accidents and injuries and ultimately save lives. We all benefit by learning defensive driving techniques and other safe driving skills that will last a lifetime.

The rules of the road are also shifting. We all face obstacles in an increasingly challenging driving environment, especially with more inexperienced drivers on the roads. Texting in driving, is one of the most distracting items a driver can do. Phone use — particularly calling and texting — while driving is one of the most common distractions.

New technologies bring even greater challenges with distracted drivers. New technology in vehicles is not always to our benefit, "infotainment" dashboards, GPS maps and other hands-free technology may actually impede smart driving and safety. Multitasking technology is about convenience, not safety.

Good driving habits require training and repetition. A driver's education course is a beneficial choice for drivers of any age and experience levels. However, it should be required for all minors navigating our roads. It is time to re-think our policies before the next generation starts their engines. Lives most certainly will depend on it.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

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