Story Produced by Citizens Count
During the COVID-19 emergency Gov. Sununu allowed parts of driver education to take place online or with a parent. Those adjustments ended along with the state of emergency, but some legislators believe the allowances should go even further. Ten state legislators are sponsoring a bill that would let parents provide all of driver education instead of enrolling their teen in an approved course.
Current driver education requirements in NH
Under current state law, a person over age 16 but under age 18 must complete over 86 hours of training before taking the written and road tests at the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). First, a teenager must complete an approved driver education course. That includes at least 30 hours of classroom instruction, ten hours of behind the wheel driver training, and six hours of driver observation. 15 hours of that classroom instruction may take place online. A teenage driver must also complete 40 hours of supervised driving with a parent, guardian, or other responsible adult over age 25. Ten of those supervised driving hours must take place after dark.
This year Rep. Timothy Lang (R-Sanbornton) and nine other New Hampshire legislators are sponsoring HB 1208 to change these requirements. HB 1208 would waive the driver education course requirement for teenagers if a parent or guardian submits in writing that they have provided driving instruction and 40 hours of behind-the-wheel driver training.
Arguments for, against parents providing driver education
Supporters of HB 1208 argue that the cost and time commitment of driver education courses are too much for some families, particularly low-income families. The cost of driver education varies, but generally falls between $500 and $1,000 in New Hampshire.
There is also limited driver education availability in some parts of the state. The list of approved driver education schools on the state DMV website includes just one in Cheshire county and two in Coos County.
Opponents of HB 1208 point out that teens are far more likely than adults to be involved in fatal motor vehicle collisions, and therefore more rigorous driver education requirements are appropriate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drivers aged 16 to 19 are nearly three times as likely as drivers aged 20 or older to be in a fatal crash. Parents may not teach teens about the latest safety technology and laws, from anti-lock braking systems to distracted driving penalties.
There are also other ideas to make driver education courses cheaper or more widely available. For example, HB 1615, another 2022 bill, would reimburse driver education providers in return for lowering the cost for students. The state could also allow all of the classroom portion of driver education to take place online. An executive order from Gov. Sununu allowed online driver education during the coronavirus emergency.
Driver education requirements vary greatly from state to state. For example, Missouri does not require any driver education courses. In Nevada, you can take the classroom portion of driver education online; if you lack access to the internet and live more than 30 miles from a classroom course, you can complete 100 hours of driving instead of a formal driver education course. In Massachusetts drivers under age 18 must complete 30 hours of classroom driver education along with 12 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction and 6 hours of observation.
In previous decades, states from Michigan to North Carolina provided driver education at no cost to students through public schools. Funding for those programs has been slashed, with most states moving towards private driver education courses.
The House Transportation Committee recently voted 14-5 in favor of killing HB 1208, but this vote is only a recommendation for their fellow representatives. The full House will get their chance to vote on the bill in the coming weeks. Contact your representative to share your opinion on this bill before they vote. You can find who represents you at citizenscount.org/elected-officials.
Citizens Count is a nonprofit serving the New Hampshire community by providing objective information about issues, elected officials, bills, elections, and candidates. These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.