State funding for Driver Education programs in high schools might get the green light if a provision in the proposed House budget survives the long and winding road to becoming law. Money for the program is currently set to expire at the end of this fiscal year, on June 30.
The proposal, which Representative McGrady originally co-sponsored last month in the form of House Bill 919, includes a $26.3 million appropriation to pay for the standardized classes, which are administered by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
According to DPI, Driver Education is an integral part of the Graduated Licensing Process and required in North Carolina for a student to obtain a learner’s permit or driver’s license before the age of 18. Driver Education is provided in all 115 school districts and is available to all public, private, charter, federal and home school students enrolled in the state.
Without state funding to help pay for these courses, local school districts must look for the money elsewhere, including their own budgets.
Because local school districts have to pay for things like qualified driver education instructors, equipment and courseware materials, this potentially “unfunded mandate” from the state can present a significant financial burden in making these courses available for qualifying students who want to get on the road sooner. Current law allows schools to charge students participating in a driver education course a fee to help offset the costs of providing the training and instruction.
At a minimum, the driver education course developed by DPI and offered to students in North Carolina must include:
Instruction on the rights and privileges of the handicapped and the signs and symbols used to assist the handicapped relative to motor vehicles, including the “international symbol of accessibility” and other symbols and devices as provided in state statutes covering Afflicted, Disabled or Handicapped Persons.
At least six hours of instruction on the offense of Driving While Impaired and related subjects.
At least six hours of actual driving experience. (To the extent practicable, this experience may include at least one hour of instruction on the techniques of defensive driving.)
At least one hour of motorcycle safety awareness training.
State funding for drivers education programs was phased out last year after an analysis by the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee showed a failure in the administration and oversight of the program by DPI. In its 2014 Final Report, the committee concluded that: 1) DPI’s strategic plan for driver education lacked objectives and quantitative performance indicators for measuring program activity and effectiveness; 2) management deficiencies and lack of accountability stemmed from State Board of Education delegation to LEAs without sufficient DPI oversight; and, 3) that although North Carolina’s teen accident and fatality rates have declined since the implementation of graduated driver licensing, they remain high.
The committee also reported that “North Carolina is one of eight states that fully fund driver education; it is the only state which funds the program from its state highway fund and does not have a dedicated revenue source for this purpose. Of the other 42 states, 10 provide partial funding and 32 do not fund their program at all.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds in the United States and almost half of teen drivers involved in a crash die and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “in 2011, about 2,650 teens in the U.S. aged 16–19 were killed and almost 292,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes, meaning that seven teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries.”