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Driver's education teaches a safer way to an ideal world

My 16-year-old son seems to be a naturally cautious driver, which — don't get me wrong — I greatly appreciate.

But in being extra careful to steer clear of oncoming traffic, for example, he courts another danger: rolling into a roadside ditch. It's all I think about as I rumble along on the extreme right edge of county roads in my new seat on the passenger's side.

Do I calmly instruct? No. Usually, I tell him to move the car over to the left, gosh darn it, before he gets us both killed.

So teaching driving to teenagers, even responsible ones, is a challenging job, one that in an ideal world would be left to professionals.

Not surprisingly, because our world seems to be getting less ideal all the time, we parents are more likely to be doing this job ourselves.

For years, driver's education — which included classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel teaching with simulators and on the road — was offered at all county high schools for a $25 fee. It wasn't mandatory. But if you graduated from high school in Hernando, there was a good chance you would have a driver's ed class under your belt.

Not anymore. Due to —what else? — budget cuts, the district now offers the class only at night and only at Nature Coast Technical High School, at a cost of $100 for a maximum of 48 students per semester.

The rest of the students can prepare for their tests through a variety of online resources, including the Florida Virtual School, which at least offers students telephone or e-mail contact with instructors.

What it can't offer, of course, is hands-on instruction from a trained teacher.

It's true that driver's ed, academically, can seem like a bit of a joke.

And insurers aren't convinced the traditional approach is best. In setting rates, most companies don't distinguish between online and face-to-face instruction, said Lynne McChristian, spokeswoman at the Insurance Information Institute office in Tampa.

Still, I think most of us left driver's ed with essential skills and the realization, as longtime Nature Coast driver's ed teacher Vic Cervizzi told me, that the "car is not a toy. … You are driving a 3,500- to 4,000-pound lethal weapon out there."

Considering that traffic accidents are easily the leading cause of death for young people — and that teenagers are four times more likely than older drivers to die on the road — you could argue this is the most important lesson taught at any high school.

Leaving the hands-on instruction of most students to parents and other willing-but-random adults looks to me like a step back, the removal of one more piece of the infrastructure — all those hated regulations and requirements — that tries to ensure we do things right.

Of course, my wife and I could pay $100 and drive my son over to evening classes at Nature Coast. But we haven't fit it in, partly because I tell myself I can do the job well enough myself.

Most parents no doubt think the same. The problem, Cervizzi says, is that untrained teachers tend to pass their bad driving habits on to children. And though I don't like to admit it, I've totaled two cars in the past seven years. Cervizzi, on the other hand, has four decades of experience as a driver's ed teacher.

In an ideal world, who do you think would teach my son to drive?

Driver's education teaches a safer way to an ideal world 09/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 6:52pm]
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