Starting with his family's tractor, State Rep. Vincent Buys says he's been driving since he was 10 years old. Now, the Republican from Lynden wants to provide more options for teenagers to learn how to drive.
Under his proposal, parents would be able to teach driver’s education to their children who are under 18 years old.
Currently, teens seeking a driver’s license must complete a driver-training course through either a high-school program or a commercial driving school before taking the state driving test.
Under the bill, a teen’s parent or guardian would have to purchase a Department of Licensing-approved driver’s education curriculum and pay a small fee to cover the department’s administrative costs, such as reviewing the parent’s driving record.
The parent or guardian would have to be at least 25 years old and have a Washington state driver’s license. The instructor could not have a previous conviction for driving under the influence or have committed a traffic infraction within the past three years.
A home-schooling lobby organization, the Christian Homeschool Network of Washington, backs the bill and believes it would produce safer drivers.
“After all, parents have a vested interest in the safety of their children out on the road,” said DiAnna Brannan, the group’s director of advocacy and volunteer lobbyist. She added that the organization doesn’t think driving schools are bad; the group just wants another option for driver’s education.
Brannan told legislators at a hearing last week that home-schooling driver’s education also would be a “huge cost savings to families.”
The Christian Homeschool Network says a DOL-approved curriculum could cost between $60 and $150, while Buys estimates the price to be $100 to $300.
Courses at commercial driving schools run between about $300 and $600, according to DOL. Those offered through 30 school districts across the state range between $360 and $400, according to a regional education agency that offers driver’s education to the most districts.
JC Fawcett, president of the Professional Driving School Association of Washington and part-owner of Bellevue-based Defensive Driving School, opposes the bill.
He said he’s concerned about parents who may want to home-school their kids in driver’s education solely for cost or convenience reasons, rather than providing the best instruction.
“But the ones who are ... genuinely going to work with their kids and make sure they drive safe and ... spend the time that they’re required to spend with their students, I actually don’t think that those parents are actually going to be an issue,” he said.
He added that minors seeking a driver’s license already are required to get at least 50 hours of driving practice with an adult, most likely a parent, in addition to going through a driver’s education course.
Peter Klein, a driving instructor at the Beacon Hill Driving School, said parents have a big role in teaching their kids how to drive, but teens may have a better experience getting behind the wheel for the first time with a professional instructor.
“The parents are nervous about their vehicle and their children’s safety, and the children are obviously nervous about making mistakes,” he said. “They’re not nervous (with us) like they are with their parents. ... We’re used to the mistakes. We can anticipate these things, and we can talk the students through it.”
AAA Washington is neither for nor against the measure, but a representative told lawmakers they should study what other states have done with parent-taught driver education before moving forward with the legislation.
Buys’ bill has not been scheduled for a vote in the House Transportation Committee.