Bill to start driver's ed., end cell phone driving
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Bill to start driver's ed., end cell phone driving

Date: March 5, 2007
By: Sean Sposito
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 609

JEFFERSON CITY - In the wake of the November deaths of two mid-Missouri teens-- Paige Siddall, 17, and Derek E. Struckhoff, 18 -- education and safe guards are being proposed for Missouri's newest drivers.

A bill introduced in the Missouri House Jan. 25 by Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, would require Missouri high schools to offer driver's education to students. The bill would also prohibit younger drivers from using a cell phone on the road for any reason other than emergencies.

Young drivers caught using a cell phone while driving with a temporary instruction permit or an intermediate license will be fined $20 for the first offense and $50 for the second.

Baker remarked, in regards to teenage phone use during driving,  that not "using a cell phone during driving will improve the safety of their experiences."

The legislation would institute a driver's education course to students 15-years-old and older through the Missouri Virtual School. Baker said the 30-hour curriculum would be accessible to students after they acquire their driving permits to prepare them for their permanent license.She cited incentives, currently written into bill, such as students who complete the course can apply for their permanent licenses 90 days earlier then their peers.

The bill will  help "low income families" pay for the estimated $200 cost of the virtual school courses with "certain driver's license fees" that would be increased by $2 and placed into a "Driver's Education Fund." Baker said she hopes the cost of the courses will be less than the initial $200 estimate.

Currently there are no driver's education programs in Columbia public high schools.

Lynn Barnett, Columbia Public School District superintendent, said that a barrier to driver's education is a lack of instructors.

She said that Columbia's schools did have a driver's education course when she graduated Hickman High School in 1969, "and for some time on."

Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Board Association, said that driver's education has been a victim of school budget cuts and an increasing focus on academics that have gradually "crowded out the program" over the past decade.

Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Education, said that in a report for the 2005-2006 school year, 50 school districts offered driver's education serving approximately 8,500 students. This is a decrease from five years ago when, Morris said, 86 school districts offered driver's education to about 11,300 students. There are 524 school districts in Missouri.

Baker said that the online classes will not take the place of the 40 hours of driver's instruction that a student currently has to complete in order to receive his or her permanent license.

Baker said she expects Marty Siddall, Paige's father, to testify at the bill's House committee hearing today at noon in the Capitol.  

 

Graphic info:

House Bill 609, if passed, would: