Americans believe that driving a car is a birthright. Maybe that's why the Legislature seems ready to eliminate the requirement that people over the age of 19 complete a driver training course before they can get a license. But this is not a good idea in a state where drivers regularly run into the sides of TRAX trains or kill themselves in equally incredible ways.
Why would the Legislature consider less driver education? The answer, as is often the case on Capitol Hill, is an anecdote.
Rep. Bradley M. Daw, R-Orem, the sponsor of HB266, told a legislative committee hearing that a constituent contacted him about his frustration with the current law. It requires applicants for a driver license to complete a state-approved driver training course. The constituent said his wife, who is over 18, had successfully passed the written test in order to obtain a learner permit, but he could not afford $300-$500 for a driver course. He said that she had become a good driver while practicing on her learner permit and would easily pass the driving test.
This led Daw to explore whether other states require driver-training courses for applicants older than 18. He found that only eight states, including Utah, do, suggesting that perhaps Utah's course requirement is unnecessary.
Besides, Daw observed, people learn to drive by driving. What's most important is the time that prospective drivers spend behind the wheel while they have their learner permit.
Daw's bill would eliminate the requirement for a driver course for people over the age of 19. In its place, applicants would have to attest that they have completed 40 hours of driving, including 10 hours of night driving, during a 90-day period under a learner permit.
The problem with this bill is that another licensed driver who supervises a person with a learner permit is not necessarily a good driver himself. Nor is she a driver-training instructor, who, presumably, is going to correct the mistakes a student makes. What's more, some driver training can be accomplished on simulators, which could reduce the risk to other drivers on the roadways.
In fact, during the same hearing on Daw's bill, a former state driver examiner testified that current examiners are against this bill. It could put their lives at risk if they are obliged to take undertrained or poorly trained drivers out on the road for a test.
Absent some evidence, other than the practices of other states, that the current Utah law is ineffective, the Legislature should leave it alone.