I-Team: Teen drivers rely on parents to get road ready

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I-Team: Teen drivers rely on parents to get road ready. (WWMT/Matt Loughrin)

The most popular time of year for driver’s education is also the most dangerous for teen drivers, according to AAA. Teen crashes historically spike between Memorial Day and Labor Day, during what AAA describes as the “100 deadliest days of summer.”

In Michigan, a student can start learning to drive four months before his 15th birthday.

“It can be really stressful driving with a new driver,” said Natalie Dean, a mother of three.

Her youngest son is scheduled to start driver’s education this summer. Each of Dean’s three children attended different driver training schools.

“It’s been across the board, different kids, different abilities, different teachers,” Dean said.

Michigan defunded driver’s education in 2004 and transferred oversight from the Department of Education to the Department of State. The restructure also shifted the burden of paying for teen driver training from the state to families. It’s also up to teens and their families to find a training company they can trust. However, the Michigan Secretary of State's office does offer a supervised training guide for parents, available online.

Mike Doyle, the communications manager at the Michigan Department of State, said privatizing driver’s education has resulted in more consistent training.

Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, a website that compiles state traffic data, reveals a dramatic drop in teen crashes since the state defunded the program.

Teen drivers ages 15-17 were involved in 32,472 crashes in 2004; that number dropped to 16,904 in 2018, the data showed.

The number of teens getting driver's licenses before the age of 18 is also on the decline, Doyle said. He attributed the steady drop to two factors, the cost of driver’s education and the influence of social media. The average cost for 24 hours in class and six hours on the road with a state certified instructor is about $330, Doyle said.

Rick Beauregard, a principal at EZ Way Driver Training in Kalamazoo, said, “It would be wonderful if we could require more, but I think for most students that's an adequate amount of beginning practice with a certified instructor.”

The state requires that student drivers complete at least 50 hours of supervised driving with a parent, guardian or family authorized supervisor who is 21 or older.

“It’s a needed responsibility on the parent because the parents are ultimately responsible for what happens with their child and their driving responsibilities,” Beauregard said. “If something happens and a child gets in an accident and injures someone, it’s going to ultimately come back on the parent until that child is 18.”

Joe Baker has two daughters, ages 25 and 29, who do not have a license to drive. At 16, both girls got into crashes while driving on a Level 1 license, formerly known as a learner’s permit. His wife was in the passenger seat at the time of both crashes.

“We know how to drive, but we don't necessarily know how to teach,” Baker said.


Editor's note: This article has been edited from its original post to clarify that the Department of State notes two possible factors contributing to the decline of teens getting driver's licenses before their 18th birthday.