Kansas driver’s ed teachers worried about waning programs

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Driver education instructors are alarmed at the declining emphasis on teaching youngsters how to drive at a time when the number of distractions is growing exponentially.

Tight budgets have forced many Kansas school districts to eliminate their driver’s education programs, while others are offering them as an after-school or summer add-on and not a core part of their curriculums.

“If a child is working out a math problem and they get it wrong they have an opportunity to erase it and do it over. Life is good, they learn, which is our goal,” said Connie Sessoms, a longtime driver education teacher. “This driver education thing, if they don’t get it and they hit a tree at 50 mph, they don’t get to do that over.”

Sessoms was among about 200 members of the American Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association who met in Wichita last week for a conference on the latest trends in driver training.

The Wichita School District dropped driver’s education in the 2010-11 school year, spokeswoman Susan Arensman said.

Because school districts aren’t hiring much, universities are dropping their programs to train driver education teachers. That has contributed to a growing teacher shortage as baby-boomer educators move on.

But it wasn’t driver education programs that lowered the number of teen traffic fatalities in Kansas over the past few years, said Jim Hanni, a spokesman for AAA Kansas.

Instead, it was a graduated licensing program that went into effect in 2010 that made the difference, he said. Teen traffic fatalities fell by roughly 32 percent from 2010 to 2011, and 11 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to Kansas Department of Transportation statistics.

“There just isn’t any research that shows that driver education reduces crash rates; I mean we haven’t changed the rigor of driver’s education since it began in 1946,” Hanni said.

Under the graduated licensing law, drivers do not receive an unrestricted license until they turn 17 and must go through a full year of supervised driving with an adult, with no night driving and restrictions on passengers, Hanni said.

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