Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Summer’s nigh and
students will be seeking
drivers licenses

But a course is now
required, and the $10
state slots are limited

By Nelson Daranciang

State Department of Education and private driving-school instructors are bracing for a summer rush of teenagers hoping to fulfill driver's education requirements for getting a license.

The city has issued just 99 licenses to drivers under 18 in the three months since a new state law took effect requiring teenagers under 18 to complete a driver's education course to be eligible for a road test. However, in the same period, city officials issued or renewed 9,227 driver's learning permits to teenagers.

"We think the kids are holding off for summer, so all of the instructors are planning for a heavy schedule of summer classes," said Marilyn Kali, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Since the law took effect Jan. 1, there have been long waiting lists of teenagers hoping to enroll in the $10 driver's education course offered through the Department of Education at public high schools.

At Roosevelt High, hundreds of teenagers have signed up for the summer class. "About 400 to 500 kids have inquired," said Glenn Sasaki, driver's education coordinator at Roosevelt. "We can only take 30 kids a quarter."

For the past two years, Sasaki has been conducting lotteries to determine which students get to enroll. For the current class, suspended because of the teachers strike, Sasaki said the lottery contained 500 names. About 60 percent were Roosevelt students; the rest were from private schools, he said.

Teenagers with parents willing to pay higher fees can fulfill their driver's education requirements at commercial driving schools. But so far, some schools have found few takers. "The demand that we expected has not materialized," said Glenn Tsugawa, vice president of the YMCA of Honolulu.

The YMCA has been offering a six-week course at its Nuuanu facility since January for $600. But so far, only 65 students have enrolled. YMCA officials postponed courses scheduled to begin earlier this year at the Atherton and Leeward facilities but are hopeful the demand will be there for May and June classes.

Bill Clutter is also counting on a summer rush of teenagers. He just opened Road Masters Driving School and has scheduled two classes in May.

"The estimates are for a potential market of 10,000 to 15,000 kids, and I expect a level playing field," Clutter said.

There are 133 Department of Transportation-certified driving instructors statewide -- 90 employed by the Department of Education. Sasaki, who also teaches a class for instructors at Leeward Community College, believes there are not enough driving instructors to meet the demand. Some state lawmakers agree.

State senators last week approved a proposal to change the effective date of the driver's education law from Jan. 1, 2001, to Jan. 1, 2003, over concern that there are not enough instructors on Maui.

The proposal was a floor amendment to another bill, which heads into conference committee negotiations without having had a public hearing. State representatives rejected a similar proposal earlier following a public hearing by the House Transportation Committee.

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