Patchwork of SD driver's ed programs under review
By Nora Hertel
PIERRE (AP) — The South Dakota Department of Public Safety has begun reviewing the state's assortment of driver's education programs, and one instructor says she would be open to more teaching guidance.
Legislators and state officials have shared a growing interest in safe driving for the past few years. A new texting while driving ban will take effect July 1 and officials still worry about the distractions young drivers face now that didn't exist in past decades.
But despite a 2011 legislative task force studying teen driving statistics and policy and backing legislation to create a statewide driver's education program, lawmakers didn't follow through, with the bill passing the Senate but failing in the House last year.
Currently, each school district can offer driver's education, but there is little state oversight of the programs and Education Secretary Melody Schopp said it isn't clear what materials instructors use to teach new drivers. The only state requirement is that teachers take courses and get an endorsement on their teaching certificates.
With the review, to be done by retired Rapid City police captain Christopher Grant, South Dakota hopes to get a sense of what each district's program looks like, analyze whether they have a positive impact on teens' driving records and identify inconsistences and opportunities for improvement.
"It's reasonable and appropriate to take a look at what other states are doing successfully and compare that to our process," said Grant, whose 18-month contract is funded by the department and won't exceed $45,000.
In addition to comparing South Dakota's programs to those in other states, Grant will compare traffic violations and crash rates of teens who did and did not take driver's education. He will also review instructor certification and curriculums.
Some schools provide driver's education classes, while others take classes at local colleges. Students have to cover the cost of driver's education, because it isn't required for graduation.
Driver's education instructor Kathy Askew said she would accept the opportunity for more training and oversight. Askew teaches in Pierre, where the district's young drivers take 30 hours of course work through the Capitol University Center, a college affiliated with state universities.
There are two instructor training programs in the state, at Northern State University and Black Hills State. Schopp said with these limited options for training, it's possible there is a shortage of instructors.
"We really don't have a handle on exactly what happens," Schopp said about curriculums for student drivers. "Maybe the programs are great."
Askew uses a curriculum called "Drive Right" and supplements with videos on distracted driving and guest speakers, such as police officers. She even took a class to the women's prison to talk to someone serving time for drunk driving.
"I supplement things just like any other educator does in the classroom," Askew said.
Grant's report and recommendations are expected after he completes his review in late 2015. The Departments of Public Safety and Education will then determine whether to push for policy changes.