Beginning next year, driver education instructors not only will coach young motorists, they also will judge whether they are ready to drive alone.
Under a new state law, students ages 16 or 17 who pass a driver’s education program won’t have to take a driving test at the Driver & Motor Vehicle Services to receive a provisional license issued to drivers younger than 18.
“I think the drive test through driver education is going to better judge the student’s ability than five to six minutes at the DMV,” Umpqua Community College traffic safety instructor Sheri Carson said.
The new law will encourage teenagers to take a state-certified driving course and save the DMV money, officials said.
“Basically, we found teens who are getting the driver education are getting better results — fewer tickets and accidents,” DMV spokesman David House said. “We want to encourage driver education. The test is just as rigorous as the DMV test.”
Five UCC driving instructors spent Monday afternoon previewing a route in Roseburg that will be used for the final test.
The program’s coordinator, Judy Ode, piloted the bus, and the instructors evaluated Ode, just as they will students.
Ode said driving instructors in Oregon met in October to discuss the change.
“There are a few instructors who are a little leery. They feel like they are taking on a lot of responsibility,” she said.
Still, the majority were on board, including UCC’s instructors, Ode said.
“Overall, it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” she said. “It seems like a natural progression.”
UCC traffic safety instructor Duane Thompson said it will be a challenge to not only teach but also determine if a student is ready to solo.
“There is added pressure because we have to be more critical,” said Thompson, who has been an instructor for five years. “The challenge for us is not to coach (on the final test). That’s the biggest hurdle.”
Other requirements will remain in place. Young drivers must have a learner’s permit for at least six months and at least 50 hours behind the wheel with an experienced driver. They also will have to pass a written test at the DMV.
Until turning 18, drivers are issued provisional licenses, which limits the hours they can drive and the passengers they carry.
House said driving instructors could occasionally be audited or students might be asked to take a survey to ensure schools are doing a good job.
Carson, a 17-year veteran of UCC’s program, agreed there is added pressure on instructors, but that the change will be worthwhile.
“Everybody’s goal is to have safe drivers on the road. It puts more responsibility on the instructors and parents. Parents have to do their part and drive with (their kids),” she said.
Carson said she thinks instructors should switch students for the final test. “I think it would be better to get another party’s assessment,” she said.
The program has discussed pairing instructors so they can switch off and test the other’s students to avoid coaching, Ode said.
UCC’s Driver Education for High School Students is offered year-round. A handful of classes are offered every term. Usually, there are about 10 to 18 students in each class. The cost is $199 for students ages 15 to 17 and $379 for students 18 and older.
The program runs roughly six weeks. Students meet twice a week for 2½ hours each time. The program sometimes will hold a 10-week session for high school students who don’t have Friday classes. Those students meet every Friday for 3 hours.
Students begin driving the second week of classes.
Students have to be at least 15½ years old to join the UCC program because Ode doesn’t want 15-year-olds to pass the class and then have to wait 10 months to get a license. She said she’s concerned those students won’t practice enough driving during the long waiting period.
Students must be able to perform certain maneuvers during their final driving tests, such as making left- and right-hand turns, parking and changing lanes. The test will take 30 to 40 minutes, Ode said.
Education programs will not test anyone 18 or older. Those students will still have to make an appointment with the DMV to receive a license that does not have the restrictions of a provisional license.
Students who don’t take a driver education course will still be tested at the DMV, if they meet the other requirements.
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.