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Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Paperwork stalls
driving instructors

About 15,000 teens are expected
to take driving classes; only one
private teacher has been certified

By Suzanne Tswei

Teen-agers who want to get their driver's licenses will have to be patient. Very patient.

With as many as 15,000 teen-agers expected to enroll in mandatory driver's education this year, the state anticipated a shortage of certified driving instructors and was hoping to certify 120 private instructors to meet the demand.

But only one private instructor has met all the requirements and received his certificate, while certificates for about 85 others have been held up by incomplete paperwork, said Marilyn Kali, state Transportation Department spokeswoman who also is in charge of the certification.

This week, the state expects to certify several more private instructors, including instructors for the YMCA, which is to begin driver's education classes Jan. 22.

"So far there has been one instructor who has submitted all his paperwork, and he is the one who's certified," Kali said.

The instructor is Kermit Brown of Kermit Brown Driving School. Although Brown is certified, he said he is not set up yet to provide the 30-hour classroom instruction mandated by law. Brown said he hopes to begin his classroom instruction by the end of the month.

His son, Kermit Brown Jr., operates Brown's Driving School and is not yet certified.

A new law, effective Jan. 1, requires for the first time that driving instructors be certified by the state before they may teach teen-agers.

Students under 18 must take 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of behind-the-wheel lessons before they are allowed to take the driver's license exam.

The law created a frenzy toward the end of last year as teen-agers rushed to the licensing bureaus to take their driver's license exam. The law also led to overwhelming requests for driver's education at public schools, which offer the cheapest driver's education at $10 per person. Private lessons may cost as much as $600.

Private instructors must successfully complete a state-sponsored course to become certified.

They also must submit proper paperwork, including proof of $1 million liability insurance and criminal background checks.

In December, the Transportation Department certified 78 instructors from the Department of Education who teach the public schools' after-school driver's education classes. More are expected to be certified, but the public school programs can accommodate only about 3,000 students due to a limited budget.

In reviewing applications from private instructors, the paperwork missing most often is proof of the $1 million liability insurance, Kali said.

Leatrice Williams, who runs a Windward driving school, said she was shopping for the best insurance rates. But she said not having insurance should not be a reason for the state to hold up her certificate.

"I don't know why they are just taking their time. It just doesn't seem right," Williams said. She was preparing well in advance of the new law, being one of the first to attend a September training course, Williams said.

While she waits for her certificate, she is deluged with requests for lessons for teen-agers, Williams said. "I just have to tell them to wait, but they are really panicking out there."

Fernie Nicols, of FSN Driving, said he also has not received his commercial liability insurance. He was not sure of the cost of the insurance but thought it would range from $800 to $1,000 a year.

He said meeting the paperwork requirement is not difficult -- it's only a matter of making sure everything is done.

Kali said that in addition to the insurance, other problems also exist, such as references without updated addresses, lack of payment with the applications or lack of a business license.

"We have gone out of our way to help them," Kali said. "We've done everything to make it as simple as possible. But they are just not submitting all the paperwork."

Kali said she had gone as far as arranging for workers from the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center to take fingerprints at a certification class for private instructors.

Kali said she had contacted applicants by telephone, email or mail to urge them to provide all the necessary information on their applications. But her pleas were not always answered.

"I've gone back and forth with them," Kali said. "I've met with them repeatedly. I've gone to their meetings. We've given them a checklist of everything they are supposed to do.

"The responsibility is not on us. They have not submitted all that's required. It's kind of in their ballpark."

The Transportation Department can process the certification in 24 hours as long as all the proper paperwork is submitted, Kali said.

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