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Friday, October 27, 2000

Drivers’ education law
poses a stiff challenge

Bullet The issue: A new law requires all prospective drivers under 18 to take drivers' education courses.

Bullet Our view: The state must expand its driver's education program to accommodate far more people.

IT'S a great idea, but it will take a real effort to make it happen. A state law taking effect Jan. 1 makes it mandatory for all prospective drivers under 18 to take drivers' education courses.

There is good reason to make drivers' education mandatory for young people. During the last 14 years, drivers between the ages of 15 and 25 were involved in more accidents in Hawaii than any other age group, including more than 20 percent of all fatalities. During that period, fewer than 20 percent of teen-age drivers attended any type of formal education program.

The state estimates that 3,000 students a year now receive drivers' education through the public schools. Another 1,000 receive private instruction. But about 15,000 would require instruction under the law. The challenge is to provide instruction for all those young people.

As the Star-Bulletin's Treena Shapiro and Pat Gee reported, the Department of Education has 89 certified driving instructors working out of the public high schools. The money to pay for this -- currently $617,000 a year -- comes from a $1 fee for every motor vehicle that is insured.

The Department of Transportation wants to recruit and train as many private instructors as possible -- and it will need quite a few. Department spokeswoman Marilyn Kali said it has about 200 names of people who have said they are interested in applying.

Even adding 200 instructors may not meet the demand. However, the community colleges and YMCAs are expected to offer courses. There is also the pros-pect of classroom instruction over the Internet and providing some training through driving simulators as ways to deal with a shortage of instructors.

It appears that many teen-agers will have to pay private instructors to meet the requirement. Currently private instructors charge $30-$40 an hour for the minimum six-hour course. The Driver Education Task Force has submitted a proposed fee schedule effective Jan. 1.

For some youths, the cost of instruction may be a problem. The state may find a need to provide financial assistance. If so, providing aid might be a wise decision. The damage in lives and property caused by untrained drivers could far outweigh the cost of such aid.

Intelligence snafu
in terrorist bombing

Bullet The issue: Intelligence warnings of a possible terrorist attack were not relayed to military commanders in the Middle East before the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden.

Bullet Our view: The success of the bombing may encourage the terrorists to try again.

IT must be dismaying to the parents, spouses and children of the victims of the bombing of the USS Cole to learn that intelligence warnings of a possible terrorist attack in the Persian Gulf were not relayed to military commanders in the area.

That unsettling fact comes from members of Congress investigating the incident. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said, "I believe that there were enough red flags to at least call into question the decision to stop and to refuel in Aden."

A telling fact: A counterterrorism specialist at the Pentagon resigned in protest the day after the Oct. 12 attack, which killed 17 sailors, because his superiors had refused to give the Navy information he believed might have prevented the bombing.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the analyst, who worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, was responsible for reviewing intelligence data on Middle East terrorism to determine what was relevant to commanders in the field. Warner said the analyst felt that "his assessment was not given the proper level of consideration by his superiors" and consequently was not included in the analysis sent to military commanders in the Middle East.

There was another intelligence report that was issued just 12 hours before the bombing, indicating possible terrorist activity in Yemen. But a Pentagon official told the legislators the report was not considered specific enough to call off the plan for the destroyer to make a brief refueling stop in Aden.

Was this another case of inexcusable laxity? The analyst who resigned presumably thinks so. The grieving relatives will be haunted by the possibility that a little more vigilance could have averted their tragedies.

Now the military fears further terrorist attacks and has alerted all units that might be targets. But the success of the attack on the Cole can only encourage the terrorists to try again. The flareup of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians has heightened tensions in the Middle East and made U.S. forces sought-after targets.

A senior defense official said authorities uncovered plans for terrorist attacks against several U.S. targets in Bahrain and Qatar and responded by putting U.S. forces there on high alert last weekend. The targets included a school in Bahrain attended by American and other international students.

The Cole incident is reminiscent of the failure of the War and Navy departments in Washington to pass on vital intelligence information to the commanders in Hawaii prior to the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack. Once again American lives have been lost through bungling or miscalculation.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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