In a recent special report, Tony Bizjak, my colleague at the Sacramento Bee, took a swipe at driver education courses offered over the Internet. His report showed that most on-line courses are no more than diploma mills. They go completely unregulated in California, with no standards for teachers or curriculum. In my view, that is not an argument for increased regulation, but for dropping the driver education requirement all together.
I know it’s counter-intuitive, but evidence collected by experts over many years shows that driver education courses for teens, whether provided over the Internet or even in public schools, do not make for safer drivers. One study found that when some high schools in Connecticut dropped driver education courses, “there was a 75 percent decline in the licensing of 16 and 17 year olds and a substantial decline in crashes.”
Experts say such courses only encourage kids to get licensed earlier. By nature, teenagers are immature, peer-pressured risk takers. Driving pushes all the wrong buttons.
I know. This is California. Teenagers will drive. To protect them, parents should make sure they get as much behind the wheel experience as possible in low risk situations – that means without other teenagers in the car or at night. But understand, a driver education course is no guarantee your kid is safe.
Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.