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Lawmakers balk at plan to rescue driver’s training

– Several members of the driver’s education industry Tuesday asked lawmakers for changes that could save a “dying” business model.

But members of the Interim Study Committee on Driver Education didn’t embrace the suggestions – especially making teen drivers wait until age 17 to get a license if they choose not to take driver’s education.

“I have high confidence that capitalism will prevail,” said Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, chairman of the panel. “Businesses will find ways to succeed. It may take a reinvention.”

Tom Zachary, president of Drive Zone, an Indiana driver’s education school, said since the overhaul to Indiana’s graduated driver’s license law in 2010 business has dropped significantly.

One key alteration in that law was to change when a teen could get a license to 16 years and six months with driver’s education and 16 years and nine months without.

Zachary said the gap is one of the smallest in the country, meaning there is less incentive for teens to take driver’s education. Many states, like Ohio, require anyone younger than 18 to take driver’s education to get a license.

He said that recent Bureau of Motor Vehicles numbers show that 66 percent of teens get a license without professional training. It used to be about 56 percent.

“We put all the 16-year-olds on the road, with or without training,” Zachary said. “I don’t know that that makes sense. We’re going in the wrong direction.”

Instead, he said Indiana needs to make driver’s education a strong component of the graduated driver’s license system.

Zachary said the industry is not asking for a subsidy but changes to the law to retract the unintended consequence of encouraging parents and teens to skip driver’s education altogether.

“Right now we don’t have the resources to improve and maybe don’t even have the resources to be a viable industry,” he said.

Other lawmakers on the committee said they were cautious about pushing the driving age for some teenagers to 17. They mentioned that the training costs hundreds of dollars, and families sometimes need the kids to work so they can contribute income.

It is also unclear what practical effect the shift to age 17 would have given. A recent Journal Gazette article showed more teens are waiting until they are 18 to get a license – thereby bypassing all requirements.

In Indiana, the number of 16-year-olds who received driver’s licenses in 2010 was 25,566. That number dropped to 3,757 a year later, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Zachary said something must be done because the driver’s education model worked for decades and now doesn’t.

Kyle Meek, owner of Indiana All-Star Driving School, suggested some smaller administrative changes the BMV could make regarding online driver’s education schools and requirements to be a driving instructor.

“The single most detrimental thing we did was the introduction of online driver’s education,” he said.

Meek suggested those schools be required to provide a few hours of in-class training in order to make them invest locally.

nkelly@jg.net

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