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Driver’s Ed Returning to Some Public Schools

Driver's education in public schools, which virtually disappeared a generation ago, could be staging a comeback.

"We're on the cusp of a renaissance of driver's education here in this country," says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

High school driver's ed was nearly universal 30 years ago. Today it is offered in only a fraction of schools in standard curriculum. About 15% of eligible students take high school driver's ed compared with 95% in the 1970s, says Allen Robinson, CEO of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, which represents about 50,000 public and private driver's ed teachers.

Today, most states require 16-year-olds to take a driver's ed course in school or a commercial program before getting their license. That's one reason more than half of all 16-year-olds wait until they're 17, Robinson says.

More driver training could help reduce the more than 3,000 deaths a year of teen drivers, says Robert Foss, director of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina.

Developments in driver's ed's resurgence:

The number of high school driver's ed programs in Georgia has increased 22% to 150 since the state required that any 16-year-old seeking a driver's license after Jan. 1, 2007, complete a state-approved driver's ed course.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has questioned the effectiveness of driver's ed since a landmark 1983 study, now supports new guidelines calling for more classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel training.

Parents in several states who lost teen drivers in crashes are pushing to restore or improve driver's ed. Penney Gentile of Cooperstown, N.Y., lost her son, Chris, 18, in a 2007 crash. "Driver's ed would have been helpful to him," she says.

Texas enacted a law Sept. 1 requiring police investigating crashes involving new drivers to determine whether they took driver's ed in a public or commercial school or learned from their parents.

Some cities are looking for new ways to pay for driver's ed. Chattanooga, Tenn., plans to use revenue from traffic camera fines to fund a pilot program, says spokesman Richard Beeland.The push for driver's ed comes even as the number of 15- to 20-year-old drivers killed in crashes annually fell 5% to 3,174 from 1997 to 2007.

Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, says driver's ed is "not effective in reducing crashes. It's a lot to expect that a relatively limited amount of time with a teen could have a big effect on their risk-taking behavior."

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