Raleigh, N.C. — AAA Carolinas went before North Carolina lawmakers Wednesday and criticized the state school system for not doing enough to prepare student drivers when it comes to driving safety.
A recent report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association ranked North Carolina second in the country for the number of 16- and 17-year-old deaths on the roads during the first six months of 2011. There were 17 deaths; only Texas had more with 26 fatalities.
Although AAA applauded the state for its graduated licensing, anti-texting and traffic safety laws, it told the state Program Evaluation Oversight Committee that more emphasis needs to be placed on safe driving in the state’s driver's education curriculum.
Tom Crosby, president of the AAA Carolinas Foundation for Traffic Safety, said that current state curriculum does talk about safety but that it is too broad and gives instructors too much leeway in what they teach.
"They're not precise enough in teaching driving behavior," he said. "It's not standardized."
For example, the curriculum includes teaching students about oil changes, road design and which cars sell better than others – none of these things, AAA says, helps teens become safer drivers.
"These may be interesting, but they have nothing to do with how to drive," Crosby said. "Teaching proper driving behavior – emphasizing what to do on the road – is a lot more important than figuring out that the first thing people look at when they go to buy a car is the color of it."
The group wants North Carolina to refocus its curriculum on safety and standardize that throughout the state.
Lawmakers say that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is already in the process of reviewing the driver's education curriculum and is working on a report that should be ready in June on its findings
Last year, DPI developed a Driver's Education Advisory Committee to help with the changes. It also started a pilot program that allows a uniform driver's education course to be taken online.
"They're kind of criticizing something right now that's kind of in a development process, because it doesn't exist, but that's one of the steps we did take last year – standardizing that curriculum all across the state," said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, a member of the Program Evaluation Oversight Committee.
"Despite some criticisms, I do think we do an incredible job with driver's ed here in this state," he added.
Another recommendation from AAA is for North Carolina to bring its driver's education programs in line with the federal standard.
Right now, the state requires student drivers to spend six hours behind the wheel and 30 hours in the classroom.
The national standard is 10 hours behind the wheel and 40 hours in classroom.
How much that would cost will be part of the report in June. It's unclear where that money would come from. Last year, lawmakers cut $5 million from driver's education.
Still, parents say that there is some value in teaching teens what's under the hood as well as other aspects of the state's current curriculum.
Amelia Williams' 17-year-old daughter recently got her learner's permit.
"I know they have the head knowledge, but they need a lot of practice," Williams said. "I've also come to appreciate that they also need to know what's under the hood. They need to know that (a car) is not a toy. It's not an accessory like the commercials make it out to be. It's actually a machine, and a machine that you can actually kill people with."