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Drivers Ed, Graduated Licensing Aim To Keep Young Drivers Safe

Posted November 2, 2001

— In North Carolina, teenagers are required to take a driver's education course to get a license or wait until they are 18 years old. Driver's education is designed to help them become better drivers, but does it work?

Driver's Education:

The state's minimum standard gives students 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of supervised driving time. School-based and private driving schools follow the guideline. How effective is the class? A good teacher makes a difference.

Classroom teachers must either have a driver's education degree or the more common

Division of Motor Vehicles

Certification. The DMV's 90-hour course allows any licensed driver to teach.

A new computerized classroom course offered at all Wake County high schools cuts down on student boredom.

"You get to interact with the computer and learn more about it than sitting there listening to a teacher and probably going off into your own little place," said Michael Cargain, a student at Southeast Raleigh High School.

"There has been an increase in the success rate that we've had as far as students who take the driving from the computer rather than from the book," says driver's education teacher Reggie Flythe. He believe the class is effective.

"The question is, effective for what? What do you expect a class like this to do," asks Dr. Robert Foss, a researcher with the

UNC Highway Safety Research Center


Foss says that driver's education is not designed to create safe drivers; it is an orientation.

"What we do in two days or three days of driving is to give them the basics," says Floyd Holloway, a vehicle instructor.

Graduated Driver License:

It used to be that when you were 15 years old, you got a learner's permit and on your 16th birthday, you got a driver's license. Things have changed in an effort to keep young drivers safe.

North Carolina now has a

Graduated Driver License (GDL)


The state was among the first to implement the program aimed at reducing the high crash rates of young drivers during their first two years of driving.

Authorized by state lawmakers in 1996, the GDL is given in three parts:

  • Level One Provisional License :

    Teenagers may drive


    with a parent or legal guardian for no less than 365 days.

  • Level Two Provisional License:

    Teenagers may drive unsupervised, but only between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.

  • Level Three Provisional License:

    As long as a teen has had no tickets or accidents and does not drop out of school, he or she gains a full, unrestricted license.

  • UNC researchers say the program is saving lives.

    "Fatal crashes, in particular, were down from 1996 to 1999 by 57 percent," says Foss. He says that the GDL program works because it adds up to a year's worth of practice.

    "Safe driving is not a matter of what you know nearly as much as it is a matter of how you act, what you do," he says.

    Experts say that a parent's experience helps form habits, too. It all starts when children begin watching their parents drive.

    Ashley Wiley has a Level One permit. Her father is required to be with her in the car for the next year. So how is it going?

    "She's improving daily. She's a little curious right now, but that's good," says Dr. Jerry Wiley.

    "When I have a question, or if I make an error, he's always right there beside me," says Ashley.

    "It's sometimes frustrating, because they don't want to listen sometimes," says her father.

    "He complains, I mean, it's always your parents beside you always trying to tell you what to do," says Ashley.

    Researchers -- and the Wileys -- found an unintended, but useful side effect to the GDL.

    "It forces us to spend more time together and with that we can have more conversation," says Wiley.

    "Me and my dad have a better relationship because of it," says Ashley.

    It is not yet known whether the protections of the GDL last as teen drivers grow older, and when speed and extra passengers become more of a problem. Data on 17-year-old drivers will be released in the spring of 2002. For now, the program


    producing a more experienced teen driver.

    North Carolina is one of 34 states with a Graduated Driver License program.

    Ten states do not allow teen drivers to have a passenger other than a parent in the car when they reach Level Two of the GDL. North Carolina is not one of them, but state lawmakers might consider sponsoring a bill due to the number of fatal crashes involving teen drivers with friends in the car.


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