The Washington Times
May 18, 2009

Washington Times Op-ed—Choice Sought in Driver Training

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

Although homeschoolers have won their freedom to teach their children at home in every state, one issue continues to be a problem. It’s whether parents should be allowed to teach their children how to drive.

Despite the freedom to teach every other subject at home, parents in most states are forbidden to teach classroom driver’s education. (Maryland does not allow parents to teach the classroom portion of driver’s education, but Virginia does. The District of Columbia has no classroom requirement.)

Home School Legal Defense Association strongly supports the position that since parents are able to teach all the other subjects and parents are responsible for the well-being and safety of their children, they also should have the right to teach their own children the classroom part of driver’s education.

It was not always this way. In the 1940s and ’50s, parents were the primary driver’s education teachers for their children. In the 1960s and ‘70s, the focus shifted to school-taught driver’s education programs. This shift was made in the hopes of assisting teenagers with their driving skills and tests. However, this has not improved teenage driving safety.

More 16-year-old drivers are dying in vehicle crashes than ever before, even though the number of traffic deaths has declined among the driving population in general. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2006, 6,964 people were killed in crashes involving drivers age 16 to 20, and 3,374 drivers age 16 to 20 were killed in 2005.

The crash risk is particularly high during the first year a teenager is eligible for a driver’s license. The problem is worse in the United States than in many other countries because we allow teenagers to get driver’s licenses at an earlier age, and licenses are inexpensive and easy to obtain.

If there’s a better method of training teens to drive, shouldn’t parents be allowed to make that choice?

In October 2000, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs conducted a research project on the effectiveness of parent-taught driver’s training. In comparing teens who had completed a National Driver Training Institute parent-taught driver’s education program with National Insurance Co. statistics for teen drivers, the study found the parent-taught teens had fewer speeding tickets, fewer accidents, fewer tickets for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and fewer traffic fatalities.

The insurance industry and many state legislatures have been moving toward a system of graduated driver’s licenses, in which a student has certain restrictions imposed—they must drive with an adult in the car, for example—until they reach a certain age. The requirement for driver’s education has been maintained in many states as part of this program. Also, due to financial challenges, many public schools are dropping their driver’s education programs. This forces parents to pay for commercial driving schools when they could just do the job themselves.

If you live in a state that doesn’t provide for parent-taught driver’s education, the only way to change the law is through the legislature. At a time when our country needs to see more parent-child interaction, parent-taught education is the right step to encourage more quality time for parents with their teens.

We have no doubt the effectiveness of parent-taught driver’s education will become evident because of the same principles that make homeschooling successful academically. The tutorial method with the low student-teacher ratio and individualized instruction produces outstanding results.

The bottom line is that no one cares more about the safety of their children than the parent as no one has more to lose than the parent when a child is ill-prepared to receive a driver’s license.

If you would like to see your state adopt parent-taught driver’s education as an option, contact HSLDA by email or at 540/338-5600.

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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