Originally created 01/19/98

Lawmakers may require drivers ed



ATLANTA -- After months of political in-fighting and mudslinging, Georgia lawmakers were convinced they'd passed the toughest set of driving laws ever last March.

Ten months later, they're considering mandatory driver's education, a move that would hit the wallets of either taxpayers or some parents.

One of the measures has already drawn sharp criticism from a leader of the crusade to stiffen teen driving laws, Gov. Zell Miller.

Currently, some public schools use local funds to offer driver's education as an elective course.

Sen. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, a candidate for lieutenant governor is calling for a return to state-funded driver's education that would be mandatory for teen-agers wanting a license. She also wants teens with learner's permits to post a sign in the window of the car when they drive.

Ms. Oliver argues poor children have gotten lost in the race to tighten up driving laws.

"It used to be required in school. The reality is that well-off parents are still paying for it," she said. "How do children who don't have family cars learn to drive?"

She thinks driver's ed could be funded with surplus lottery proceeds. Currently, the lottery pays for Mr. Miller's HOPE college scholarship, pre-kindergarten classes, school technology and construction.

Under her plan, the public school system would offer a driver's education course to students eligible for the federal free lunch program. Families who can afford it would pay, but they'd get a credit on their state income taxes.

"Opposition will come from the fair-minded question of `how are we going to pay for it?' But the state should provide for a way to pay for low-income children," Ms. Oliver said.

Mr. Miller rejected the suggestion that lottery money pay for driver's ed.

"That's exactly what I've been talking about, people with good ideas who want to use lottery funds. Then every one of these ideas will dilute the proceeds, and eventually we'll not have enough to fund HOPE or Pre-K," Mr. Miller said.

Ms. Oliver said the course also could be funded through a special license fee or the state's general fund.

In addition to driver's education, parents would be required to spend a certain number of hours in the car with their teen behind the wheel. She proposes 30 hours, 10 of them in the evening, but anticipates that number will be lowered.

A parent would have to submit an affidavit to the Department of Public Safety that issues licenses showing the time commitment has been met.

In other proposed bills, driver's education would be paid for either by a school or a parent.

House Motor Vehicles Committee Chairman Bobby Parham, D-Milledgeville, has called for driver's education to be offered a minimum of once a year in public schools.

Rep. Carl Von Epps, D-LaGrange, has a measure to offer a course during summers at public schools.

Other bills related to the new teen driving law would either loosen or tighten restrictions. Mr. Miller has promised to nix nearly any bill he perceives as weakening the law.

One exception is legislation by Rep. John Wiles, R-Kennesaw, that would allow a licensed teen moving to Georgia from another state to get a restricted license without waiting 12 months.

"The governor has said he could support that," said Miller spokesman Rick Dent.

Lawmakers hope to change another part of the new teen driving law.

Legislators have been getting complaints from parents because their children had their licenses yanked after being ticketed for driving at least 24 miles per hour over the speed limit.

Mr. Parham hopes to meet with Mr. Miller and discuss an exception for married and employed 18-year-olds so they can get a permit to drive to work.

"Anytime you enact major changes, it takes two or three years to straighten out the technicalities and problems. I'm hoping that I can explain it to him," Mr. Parham said.

Mr. Miller has vowed to veto any changes to the speeding law.