Driver's education program money going elsewhere - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Driver's education program money going elsewhere

April 10, 2007

Albany --The state has raised millions of dollars to pay for mandatory drivers education classes for teens. But get this, most of that money won't ever go to those safety programs even though many teens have a tough time finding a class to take.

Driver's ed instructors say that could mean more dangerous roads.

 17-year-old Shelby Cosby says her Driver's Education class helped her behind the wheel. Cosby said "no crashes, no tickets, so far, so good." Cosby took her Driver's Education course at Deerfield Windsor, with her parents paying the way.

Under Joshua's Law now all Georgia teens have to pass a state-approved driver's ed course that includes 30 hours in the classroom and 40 hours behind the wheel. The law authorized a five percent surcharge on traffic violations to start that program. So far the state has raised $11.9 million  from the surcharge, but spent only $2.7million on the driver's ed program. The rest of the money has gone back into the state's general fund, and will not be sent back.

Meanwhile many parents are searching desperately for classes for their teen. Driver's instructor Gordy Gruhl said "I know there was some money allocated for all that, and we don't know what happened to that money."

Highway Safety statistics show that driver's education efforts in the last decade have worked in South Georgia. Safe Communities Coordinator Michele DeMott said "we've seen a tremendous reduction in the number of crashes in Albany and Dougherty County since the institution of graduated driver's licensing in 1997. "

In 1997 in Albany and Dougherty County, teen drivers between the ages of 15 to 19 were involved in 723 traffic crashes. In 2006, after a decade of driver education efforts, there were only 381 crashes involving teen drivers, a 47 percent decrease.

In 1997 there were 64 crashes involving teens 15 to 19 related to speeding. In 2006 that number dropped to just 14. Seat belt usage increased and the number of injuries in teen crashes in Dougherty County also went down. DeMott said " Joshua's law we really feel like it will continue to reduce those crash and injury numbers."

The Georgia Driver's Education Commission says the program takes time to develop,and most of the state's teen will soon be able to take the classroom instruction on line.

Gruhl will teach twice as many classes this summer trying to keep up with the demand of teen's wanting the course so they can get their license. Gruhl said "I think it's a problem. We get calls all the time about it, and people are frustrated."

 But many Georgians think lawmakers should have set up the program before requiring it, and spend the money they mandated to make Georgia's road safer.

Teen drivers are more likely to be involved in traffic crashes at about 8 in the morning or between 4 to 5 in the afternoon when most are driving to school and back.

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