Originally created 11/13/97

Driver training favored



ATLANTA -- An overwhelming percentage of Georgia AAA members support mandatory driver education, a survey released Wednesday suggests, and state lawmakers may be preparing to take the next step in their efforts to reduce teen-age road tragedies.

As the survey by AAA Auto Club South -- which has 350,000 members -- was being released in Atlanta, a joint state House-Senate study committee in Savannah was beginning a series of public hearings to consider whether driver education should be required for Georgians seeking a license.

During the 1997 General Assembly, lawmakers approved a wide-ranging bill creating a graduated licensing system and curfews for teens.

State Sen. Diana Harvey Johnson, D-Savannah, who co-chairs the study committee, said it only makes sense for lawmakers to now consider driver education.

"If you have a problem, I would think the first step would be education," Ms. Johnson said. "It may be step two (for lawmakers), but some people feel education should have been step one."

The Georgia AAA survey, conducted by Beth Schapiro and Associates of Atlanta, found 84 percent of respondents favor driver education as a mandatory requirement to obtain a license.

The big questions for lawmakers and AAA members are where to provide driver education and who will pay for it.

"Everybody wants to know, if it's good, who's going to fund it," Ms. Johnson said.

"We don't necessarily advocate driver's education go back into the public schools," said Ted Allred, regional manager of AAA Auto Club South.

Two years ago, 89 percent of surveyed AAA members wanted it required in Georgia's public schools.

Most schools dropped publicly funded driver education in the mid-1980s after the state discontinued its support with the passage of the Quality Basic Education Act school reforms.

Once the state dropped its support, local schools often couldn't afford to pick up the tab. Some public and private schools still offer such courses through private companies. This year's Georgia AAA survey did not ask where driver education should be held.

AAA members also disagreed over who should pay for it. About 40 percent suggested lottery money, while 30 percent said parents should pay, and another 18 percent recommended it come either from driver license or automobile registration fees.

Whoever pays for it, Mr. Allred said Georgia AAA members don't want the state to return to the days when driver education was heavy into classroom work.

"We feel the driver's education that we have known in the past is not what we need today," he said. "Most of the emphasis in the past has been in classroom training and limited time behind the wheel gaining exposure to real-world conditions. Today's novice driver needs to be exposed to more real-world traffic."

Ms. Johnson's legislative committee met Wednesday in Savannah and has scheduled hearings for Nov. 20 in Albany, Dec. 3 in Athens and Dec. 10 in Atlanta, where lawmakers will likely consider what to recommend to the General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.

The survey of Georgia AAA members also found:

  • 82 percent oppose extending maximum trailer and truck lengths.
  • 65 percent believe the speed limit for large trucks should be lower than for cars.
  • Three of four respondents said they were intimidated by big rigs when driving.
  • Almost three of four favor requiring uniform traffic fines across Georgia.