License to Drive: A WAFF 48 News Special Report | News
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF)- Fatal wrecks involving teens are a grave reminder that the roads are dangerous.
"Just because you're 16, doesn't mean you're ready to drive a vehicle," said Lt. Darrell Campbell, an Alabama State Trooper.
Yet driver's licenses are issued to thousands of teens in Alabama every year, once they pass a road skills test with a state trooper or with a test giver at the DMV.
In recent years, many teens are taking an alternative way to take their exam. They're opting to take the test with their high school driver's education instructor, instead of at the DMV.
The school instructor must be certified to conduct the test and be trained by the Department of Public Safety.
"Basically it allows students the opportunity to do their road skills testing through their driver education program in their high school, if their high school participates in them," Lt. Campbell said.
It's an option available in almost every county in Alabama, thanks to a state law commonly referred to as the third party program.
Students who pass their test with school test givers are given a yellow certificate. They then present the certificate to the Department of Public safety, show proper identification, then get issued their license right away.
But some say the amount of actual driving experience that teens get in high school programs is lacking.
The Alabama Department of Education oversees the program. Michael Bassett with the ADE's Driver Traffic and Education division said teens should have about six hours of supervised driving practice with a certified instructor.
But it's not a requirement. State troopers said it is more important for new drivers to practice and gain experience by driving with their parents.
ADE and the DPS also recommend 30 to 50 hours of parent-supervised driving practice for teens learning to drive.
"It's the parent's responsibility to make sure that the child is prepared to operate a vehicle, and to get a driver's license," Lt. Campbell said.
Bob Jones High School in Madison offers the third-party program. Principal Robby Parker said students receive plenty of experience in their nine-week driver's ed. course.
"At Bob Jones, these students get to drive about once a week for about six weeks. And so they get a lot of driving. A whole lot more than they used to get," Parker said.
High school driving instructors said they allocate driving practice on a case-by-case basis.
"If I have a real advanced driver that's really good, that driver may not drive as long as the other child that is not as good. So I put more emphasis on getting the other up to where they are," said Jimmy Nave, who teaches driver's ed. at Bob Jones High.
Some students said they felt more at ease having their test under Nave, who also coaches football at Bob Jones.
"I've known coach nave for two years playing football and I felt comfortable with him in the car and I felt more comfortable than if it was just some stranger that I had to impress with my driving skills somehow," said Bob Jones senior Zack King.
Principal Parker said the driving courses are strict and parents should be reassured that their kids are getting strong training.
"Through the years, I've seen more tears from students coming in for driver's ed. class through the front door than from any math class or English or history class," Parker said.
The option is also popular among students. More than 17,000 teens took and passed their road skills test at drivers ed. in the 2010-2011 school year, according to the Alabama Department of Education.
The Department of Public safety said the high school programs also relieve long lines at the DMV.
"We're overwhelmed in many of our offices already and that would result in longer waits to get the road test," Lt. Campbell said.
State lawmakers are now reviewing a bill that would include private schools in the third-party testing program.
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