Beware: Student driver

Driver’s ed class still vital without discount for insurance

Helias Catholic High School freshman Alex Faddoul, seated in the driver’s seat, checks the right mirror before pulling into Jefferson City traffic. Seated in the passenger seat is instructor Travis Reinsch.

Helias Catholic High School freshman Alex Faddoul, seated in the driver’s seat, checks the right mirror before pulling into Jefferson City traffic. Seated in the passenger seat is instructor Travis Reinsch. Photo by Julie Smith.

From the day kids are born, parents look forward to and celebrate each little milestone: rolling over, walking, that first day of school and losing the first tooth.

Fast forward many years, and parents may wish to turn back the clock. For most teenagers, turning 16 is anticipated for years. For parents, however, handing over those keys may not be so sweet.

Sitting in the passenger seat while leaving your fate in the hands of your child is hardly a recipe for a stress-free afternoon. But because learning to drive is inevitable, three local schools are making that task a little easier on parents by offering driver’s education classes.

“There is no substitute for real-world practice,” Jefferson City High School instructor Shane Meyer said.

The JCHS program has four instructors, and approximately 560-600 kids complete the program each year. Students range in age, but most are freshmen who’ve just turned 15 or sophomores just months from turning 16.

Students receive in-class instruction, going over the “nuts and bolts” of the driver’s guide created by the Missouri Department of Motor Vehicles. Instructors teach units on the laws of gravity and the impact of force, adverse driving conditions, distractions, effects of alcohol, buying a vehicle, the rules of the road and insurance.

They also spend time on the driving range set up across the street, practicing three-point turns, parking, backing in and out of spaces, driving in their lane, avoiding obstacles and more. They are given time to practice, and are ultimately tested on their skills.

A third element to the program is getting kids on the actual road. Two instructors are able to take students driving, with each student receiving about 16 days behind the wheel.

“We encourage homework, the more a kid can get behind the wheel with their parents, the better,” Meyer noted.

He said students need that time to practice, while having the comfort of an adult in the passenger seat.

Both Helias and Blair Oaks also offer a driver’s education course. Helias instructor Travis Reinsch said his students spend about six weeks in the classroom and the remainder of the time behind the wheel.

“The most important thing that parents can do to help their children become better drivers is to lead by example,” Reinsch said, noting avoiding texting using a cell phone while driving.

“The more time they have behind the wheel the better driving they will become,” he encouraged.

Blair Oaks offers the instruction as a summer school option over the course of several weeks. Students spend five instructional days in the classroom and then spend time driving in groups of three.

As nerve racking as it may be for the parent, Meyer noted that many students have anxiety about driving as well.

“We have kids who are scared to death of getting behind the wheel. Or those that the thought of driving on the highway terrifies them,” the JCHS instructor said. “The only way to deal with those anxieties is to practice.”

Meyer advises parents to talk through potential situations as they ride along.

“The thing we think helps the most is to verbalize and anticipate the situation. Kids have the hardest time when they are surprised by things,” Meyer said.

Scanning their surroundings and noting possible scenarios can help keep the stress factor down when a surprise really does comes along.

Although driver’s education is useful to students for extra practice and greater instruction, it also used to mean a discount for their higher than average insurance premiums.

Several local insurance agencies said their companies have stopped offering the discount, including State Farm, Shelter Insurance, and American Family.

Charles Bax from American Family Insurance said one possible reason could be that teens are now eligible to get their permit at 15, rather than 15 1/2, and thus, have more time to learn before getting their license.

State Farm agent Brad Hutchison said his company stopped offering the discount 10 years ago.

“Part of the reason is because a lot of schools don’t offer the program,” Hutchison noted.

The insurance company does offer a good student discount, as do many other companies. The Steer-Clear program also allows parents to get their teens more driving time, while earning a discount on their premium.

Because teens have such little driving experience, insurance premiums are naturally going to be higher simply because of age.

Gender also plays a role, with males having higher costs. Hutchison said premiums can sometimes go up 30 to 50 percent by adding a teenager. The cost varies by several factors and throughout companies, but even without the discount, Hutchison said the driver’s education program is worthwhile.

“The more practice they have, naturally, the better they are going to be,” the local agent said.

In preparation to teaching teens to drive, Hutchison said it’s a great idea to have kids talk with an insurance agent about the costs associated with getting tickets and being involved in accidents. He also encourages more driving time with parents, getting out into different scenarios and various conditions such as driving in the city, out in the country, on gravel roads and on interstates.

Accompanying photo: Helias instructor and student driver

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