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Tuesday, October 24, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Benjamin George, who attends Fred Nagao's drivers education class
at Farrington High School, works with a wall-sized road display.

DOT gears for
drivers ed

A Jan. 1 law makes drivers ed
required for all under 18

The law also raises the age for a
driver's permit to 15-1/2 and
a license to 16

By Treena Shapiro and Pat Gee

It will take creativity, flexibility and maybe a little patience, but state transportation officials say they will be able to accommodate the thousands of teen-agers expected to sign up for drivers education beginning next year.

A state law takes effect Jan. 1, increasing the minimum age for obtaining a driver's permit to 15 1/2 and a license to 16. More significantly, the new law also will make drivers education mandatory for all prospective drivers under 18.

Public hearings will begin tomorrow on proposals to implement the new law.

There are not enough certified instructors to accommodate all eligible students -- an estimated 15,000 a year -- who would be affected.


The state Department of Transportation will hold public hearings beginning tomorrow to discuss changes to the drivers licensing law, affecting drivers under 18, as follows:
Bullet Tomorrow: 9 a.m., Honolulu Airport, Airport Conference Center, Interisland Terminal, 7th Floor; 3 p.m. Lihue Airport, Airport Mezzanine Conference Room, South Terminal, third floor
Bullet Thursday: 9:30 a.m., Kahului Airport Conference Room; 3 p.m. Kona International Airport Conference Room.

About 3,000 students a year now receive drivers education through public schools, with 1,000 obtaining behind-the-wheel experience with private instructors, said Joanne Swearingen, the Department of Education's state program manager for drivers education.

"That would leave a large number of students who currently don't get a lot of drivers licensing instruction," she said.

The Department of Education is limited in the number of students it can accommodate in its drivers education classes, receiving $617,000 a year to run a statewide program, Swearingen said.

The program takes in $1 per insured motor vehicle in the state. If all the registered vehicles, about 900,000, were insured, the program would have more money, she said.

There are 89 certified Department of Education instructors working out of all public high schools, except for Hana, Lanai and Pahoa.

With some 15,000 students a year eligible to receive drivers education, the state Department of Transportation is looking to recruit and train as many private instructors as possible in the coming months.

"I think we'll be ready," said Marilyn Kali, DOT spokesperson. "We have about 200 names of people who have sent us information saying they're interested."

Lists of instructors will be made available on the DOT's Web site -- drivered -- at motor vehicle registration divisions and at schools.

Adding 200 private instructors still may not meet the demand, but by the beginning of next year, the community colleges and YMCAs are expected to also offer training courses for students, she said.

Kali said Hyperion Technologies is working on a course that would allow students to receive their classroom training over the Internet and some of their behind-the-wheel training via driving simulators.

"It's very high-tech and certainly will put us on the forefront in using technology to teach a skill," she said.

It will also allow the state to accommodate more students.

"The DOE courses are limited so they can only handle a certain number of people every year, but the Internet course is not limited and that's where we see the majority of kids going for the classroom portion," Kali said.

Kali said there's also room in the law to develop a home study course to be administered by parents. A private provider would submit a course for certification by a curriculum review committee, she said.

"Everybody learns in a different way so we're looking at different ways for people to get the information we want them to get ... so that everyone will be a better and safer driver," she said.

The Department of Transportation sought to make drivers education mandatory because drivers between the ages of 15 and 25 are involved in more crashes than any other age group -- more than 20 percent of all fatalities in the state during the past 14 years, Kali said.

Fewer than 20 percent of teen drivers attended any type of formal education program during the same period of time, she added.

Under a proposal submitted by the Driver Education Task Force, the maximum fees that a private instructor may charge each student after Jan. 1 are: $250 for drivers education classroom instruction; $150 per person for a home study course; $100 for an on-line or Internet course; $50 per hour for behind-the-wheel driving lessons and $250 for a simulator course.

Currently, private instructors charge $30-$40 an hour for the required minimum six-hour course, which averages $180-$240, though most students take more hours than required, Kali said.

The Department of Education's $10 course fee will not increase. It has remained unchanged since 1964, Kali said.

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