Make Drivers Education Classes Mandatory in High School

Knowing that the leading cause of death among teenagers is fatal car crashes, one would think that teaching adolescents how to safely drive would be a national priority—or at least a high school graduation requirement.

Not so.

California Department of Education Public Information Officer Giorgos Kazanis said that out of the 1,100 school districts in the state, only 171 still offer a driving education course

despite California Education Code Section 51220(j) stating that “grades 7-12 . . . shall offer courses in . . . automobile driver education.”

Schools nowadays have plenty of bullying and drug prevention programs, but nothing on car accident prevention.

 Drivers education classes fell victim to budget cuts a quarter of a century ago when money from the Victims Compensation Fund (an explanation that would consume another column) which paid for in-car training was redirected for other purposes, leading schools to stop offering the courses as well. That funding has never been replenished.

Maybe that explains why fewer 16-year-olds have a driver’s license these days.

If you are old enough you may recall taking a class in high school called Safety that focused on the state’s Vehicle Code.   In addition to learning about the rules of the road, films were shown depicting staged and real car accidents. For a nominal fee, students could sign up for in-car driving lessons after school, usually taught by coaches or counselors. Some schools actually had driving simulators.  

One of the enigmas of public education is the dearth of important life skills not taught in classrooms. Part of the state’s secondary curriculum should include knowledge on how to open a bank account, how to apply for a credit card and a loan, and how to drive a motor vehicle.   And all students should be taught how to properly use electronic devices such as smart phones and tablets.

Oh sure, young people can quickly figure out how to text using abbreviations and emoticons, but how many know how to intelligently navigate the Internet or specify their Google searches, important lifelong abilities?

Some teachers on their own may give a lesson or two on life skills, but there is nothing that mandates it.

It’s too bad for what better way to make use of the regular school day than to have at least one hour devoted to things most people need to know when they grow up.  

Now that my son is 15 ½ I am going through the experience of paying hundreds of dollars for a driver’s ed course along with personal in-car training.   The 30 hours of classroom instruction is in addition to his normal school workload. It’s as if the driving class is an extracurricular like a sport.  

Of course Advanced Placement courses are important, but honor students get in accidents, too.

Sometimes those in education have tunnel vision when it comes to what students need to know.   It sounds good to require a student to take academic classes. However, beware: the word “academic” can mean something that is educational as well as something irrelevant. You would have a hard time convincing my son that geometry is more practical than driving.  

Instead of Common Core dominating the education conversation we need more of a Common Sense approach to what kids should know in order to survive in the real world.