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Handful of Mid-Missouri schools offer driver’s education courses this summer


Student driver vehicles can be seen on the roadways in Mid-Missouri this summer as schools offer their summer driver's education courses.

In Columbia, Columbia Public Schools is again offering its driver's education course after a brief hiatus since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an email, CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark said the course filled up quickly and is offering in-person driver's instruction at all three high schools. CPS worked with Columbia Honda to get the vehicles.

Baumstark said students receive both classroom and laboratory instruction while learning about traffic laws, alcohol and drug awareness, traffic interaction, safety awareness and reduced accident risk, among other things. She said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires students to participate in 12 hours of car observation and six hours of behind-the-wheel driving practice.

In Jefferson City, Drivers Education Instructor Nathan Redcay said 42 students are currently enrolled in the summer driver's education course.

Redcay said the course starts in the classroom while students learn things like memorizing signs, symbols and gauges. The driving lessons then start in a large parking lot before students eventually work their way up to practicing highway driving and driving on rural county roads.

In Ashland, Southern Boone School District is also offering a driver's education course. A high school report for Tuesday's Board of Education meeting said 22 students are enrolled in the course, which is being instructed by Gerald Buescher.

A Southern Boone spokesperson did not respond for comment on Tuesday.

Outside of the summer semester, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said just over 30 school districts in Missouri offered driver's education during the 2023-2024 school year. In Mid-Missouri, this list included Jefferson City, Maries County, Morgan County and Osage County.

However, driver's education is not required by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety says fewer courses are offered, making it difficult to prepare inexperienced drivers before they get behind the wheel.

MoDOT Highway Safety Program Administrator Scott Jones says proper training is extremely important before a teen gets behind the wheel.

"There's a certain number of hours that are required to get their license, but there's nothing to say that's all they need," Jones said.

MoDOT reports that in 2022, 40% of fatal crashes involving teen drivers in Missouri were due to speeding or driving too fast for conditions.

On top of this, 59% of teens killed in traffic crashes weren't wearing seat belts, and it's estimated that 22 teen lives could have been saved if they were buckled up.

A study published by USA Today in April showed over 51% of Missourians failed their driver's license test between 2020-2023, making Missouri the state with the second-highest failing percentage in the U.S., only behind Indiana.

Jones said with few driver's education classes being offered, MoDOT is relying on driving schools or parents to teach teens how to drive.

"I think parents need to remember the best thing they can probably do for their student and child is to be a good role model," Jones said. "So, starting off with wearing a seatbelt, driving the speed limit, don't be distracted."

Meanwhile, driving instructor and owner of Your Turn 2 Drive, Kimberly Branson, said this has caused her business to increase over the last couple years.

"A lot of parents contact me stating that their high schools are no longer offering driver's education classes," Branson said.

Jones said driver's education is an expensive program to afford when it comes to insurance liability and providing a vehicle, which is likely why some districts don't offer the program. Others, like the Hallsville School District, have struggled to find a qualified instructor, according to spokesperson Kari Yeagy.

ABC 17 News has asked DESE for numbers relating to how driver's education courses have changed over previous years.

Branson said she has likely taught over 200 teenagers in her time as an instructor and believes if more people took driving education or driving classes, the roadways would be safer.

"When you're considering purchasing driving lessons for your student, realize you're investing in them, you're investing in their future, you're investing in their safety and you're helping keep America's roadways safe, as well," Branson said.

Branson said the mistake she most often sees from teenage drivers is distracted driving. Jones said he often sees teenagers not wear seat belts and try to race on the roadway.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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