Teens to face more driving instruction time

January 25, 2008 4:00:14 PM PST
Illinois teenagers wanting a driver's license will have to spend more time behind the wheel beginning this summer. But, those extra hours will cost area high schools more money.

Ten school districts have asked to be exempt from the new rule.

The Illinois Graduated Driver Licensing Program was born from a series of highly publicized fatal crashes involving teens. The program does several things, such as restrict the number of people in the car with the teen and impose a stricter curfew on teen drivers.

But, some school administrators have a problem with a part of the program.

Teen drivers make up 6 percent of Illinois drivers but account for 12 and one-half percent of fatal crashes. A new law will require driving students to have six hours with an instructor on the road before getting a license.

"You cannot beat the behind-the-wheel experience. The lives these young people save may be their own," said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

Some school districts want an exemption from that rule. Naperville Central will ask for a waiver from the state Board of Public Education. Ten school districts have already made such a request.

At Naperville Central High School, student drivers get classroom training and 12 hours on a driving simulator before hitting the roads with an instructor. The school's driver education coordinator says the simulator offers unique situations to students.

"You can stop the film and explain to the kids, 'What do you see in the film?' When you're on the road, you can't stop and analyze. You have to react quickly," said Naperville Central's Paul Zientarski.

The new rule would take effect July 1. If the state does not offer financial help, districts will have to figure in more instructors to meet the requirements of the new rule.

Naperville Central would have to hire another full-time instructor.

"We're just asking for the waiver. We think the program we have been offering for a number of years is a good one," Zientarski said.

Chicago Public Schools also plans to apply for the waiver. Its driver education coordinator says the simulator and road instruction work well.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State Jesse White is lobbying legislators to come up with $22 million to pay for the additional driver education instructors.