Vote could end drivers ed requirement for graduation

Overworked teens are asking the San Francisco Board of Education to stop making drivers education a graduation requirement, but public-safety officials say schools should require more education, not less.

Jason Siu and Nestor Reyes, the two student members on the district’s school board, sponsored the proposal, which will be introduced at tonight’s school board meeting.

When Reyes polled his classmates about the idea, he found plenty of support.

“Many of them think drivers education is a fun class, but they think it’s useless,” he said.

If the board approves the initiativetoday, rules-of-the-road classes would be offered, but not mandatory, according to San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia, who supports the measure.

“There’s no law that everyone has to drive,” Garcia said. “We’re one of the few districts to have it as a requirement, but I don’t think someone who doesn’t want to do it should have to do it to graduate.”

Many San Francisco public school students feel the course takes time away from other academic or enrichment classes, according to Siu and Reyes.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles requires students under 18 to take at least 30 hours of classes to learn state driving and safety laws before they can obtain a learner’s permit, which allows them to practice behind the wheel.

Drivers education still has plenty of value, said Jon Hamm, president of Impact Teen Drivers, a public-awareness program.

“My generation got drivers education, and the teachers tried to instill the responsibility that came with getting behind the wheel. They showed us ‘Red Asphalt’ and all that gory stuff,” Hamm said.

Fatalities among drivers age 15 to 20 held steady between 1996 and 2006 at just below 4,000, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatal accidents involving teen drivers have declined slightly from a high of more than 8,000 in 2002 to roughly 7,500 in 2006.

A number of businesses offer rules-of-the-road education, either online or in classrooms, but at a cost of $30 to $75. California also requires teens to get six hours of practice behind the wheel at a professional driving school, which can cost anywhere from $30 to $70 an hour.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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