The Washington Times
October 22, 2007

Washington Times Op-ed—Parents Vital to Driver Education

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

One area of family life that has closely followed the pattern of the homeschooling movement is parent-taught driver education. In early America, almost all education was provided by parents in the home, with help from extended family who usually lived nearby.

With the advent of the first compulsory attendance laws in the 1870s, the line was drawn between public schools, financed by taxpayers, and homeschooling. During this time, parents were not convinced that children should be removed from the home and be educated by the government.

Over time, however, most parents in America sent their children to public or private schools. It was not until the late 1960s that we saw a renewed interest in home education.

With the advent of the motor vehicle in the early 1900s, parents taught their children how to drive. Until the 1940s and ’50s, children continued to learn how to drive under the supervision of their parents. Schools generally did not offer driver education.

In the 1960s and ’70s, however, the focus shifted to school-taught driver education. All 50 state legislatures have passed requirements for driver education. Consequently, the involvement of parents in training and instructing their children how to drive has been reduced significantly.

But has school-taught driver education been a success? More 16-year-old drivers are dying in vehicle crashes than ever before even though the number of traffic deaths has declined among the general driving population, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

I believe we can learn something from the homeschool community in the area of driver education as we have learned from parental involvement in the overall education of children.

Homeschooled children, on average, score higher than their public and private school counterparts on standardized achievement tests. This is because of the individualized, one-on-one instruction they receive. Parents are able to teach to their child’s strengths while addressing their child’s weaknesses in a loving and compassionate way.

State legislatures are beginning to recognize the safety benefit when parents are able to instruct their children in driver education.

At least 28 states provide some form of educational opportunity for the parent to direct the driving education of his or her child. A study released in December 2000 by George Mason University’s Center for Advancement of Public Health and the Virginia Department and Motor Vehicles, concluded that parental involvement was the most important factor in teaching teens safe driving behaviors.

The study, titled “Young Drivers: A Study of Policies and Practices,” used data gathered through interviews with state and national experts plus focus groups held with parents, teens and driver education instructors.

The study further concluded that any driver-education program, no matter how comprehensive, is most effective when parents get involved in behind-the-wheel practice sessions with young drivers.

Outstanding parent-taught driver-education courses are available to parents. When considering these driver-education programs, always consider the thoroughness of the program and whether it is recognized in your state (if necessary) and whether your insurance company will give you a driver-education discount.

The Home School Legal Defense Association believes strongly that parent-taught driver education programs should be authorized in every state. Any parent who wants to be involved in training his or her child to drive should be able to do so.

Parents care most about their children and have the most to lose in the form of higher insurance rates, repairs to vehicles and potential injury to their children.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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