Unrestricted Driver Ed Program in North Carolina Faces Closures, Private Alternatives Exist

Public school systems in North Carolina are tasked with creating a suitable driver ed program for each of its students who are of age to begin driving lessons, receiving about $230 per student for the process. Legislators looked at the cost, and the success, and have decided it's not working.

State representatives say that the current requirements, which include 30 hours of classroom instruction and 12 hours behind the wheel, do little to improve the crash rates of newly minted drivers in the Tarheel state. Those hourly requirements are also substantially lower than those of other states, with some having driving hour minimums up to four times as long.
North Carolina has been facing a large deficit that has impacted its ability to fund a variety of school programs, leading to cuts in the millions of dollars for teaching and other positions. This, according to some in the media, merely represents another attempt to bring the state budget under control.

The problem is that the program is not actually tied to any performance metrics, especially those related to highway safety. It is an oversight that the legislators noted at the same time that budget auditors estimated that forcing families to pay for a private driver ed program could cost $300 or so per student.

But changes in driver education are likely to come. State Representatives like Nelson Cole, told local television stations that the funding for road construction and maintenance is about $65 billion underfunded over the next two decades. The same budget that covers these expenses also covers driver education programs.

Families who are used to not having to pay a dime may not want to consider the fact that they might have to pay, but there are options that don't range in the hundreds of dollars. For example, many online driving schools offer teens the ability to study from home, using either internet programs or DVDs to make their way through a more stringent curricula than many districts in North Carolina currently offer.

North Carolinians may not even have to worry about the expenses, as legislators argue that when the budget is debated, the funding will return. But the fact is that state laws allow for provisional licensing as early as 16 depending on when permits are acquired. State statistics bear out national studies linking inexperience to an increased risk for accidents.

The budget woes might put a scare into some parents, but perhaps it could also be a sign that more involvement and a closer watch on teen driving habits could benefit them. Driving school alternatives may also help to bridge the gap and help younger drivers stay safe on the road.
Those issues are most relevant to parents who live in or near Charlotte or Greenville, which have the highest traffic accidents with fatalities among any in the state, according to the American Automobile Association. 76 fatalities took place in Mecklenburg County, while Pitt County had about two percent of all road accidents in the state in 2008, the organization found.