Driver training should be taught in schools

Youth need to learn responsibility, as well as skills

Susan Flanagan susan@48degrees.ca
Published on March 5, 2013
Steering wheel

Drivers’ training, at least the in-class portion, should be offered in the high school curriculum in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I turned on the radio the other day and heard there’s a looming shortage of truckers in this country. Yet we’re offering our children a high-school course called Healthy Living.

Think about it: with driver’s training offered in high school, we could not only be teaching teenagers the rules of the road, but schools could reinforce the consequences of driving without a licence or registration. We could make sure young adults understand the life-long implications of driving without insurance.

It’s only recently I realized that not all 16-year-olds race to Mount Pearl to write their permit test on their birthday. I have a friend who works in health care and sees teenagers all the time.

“I’ve learned to not ask them if they have their licence,” she says. “Their face just drops. There are so many obstacles to getting a licence. You need cash in hand. You need a parent to drive you. If these kids get a chance to take a car and go for a joyride, they can’t resist it.”

She’s right. Getting a driver’s permit or licence here in this province is not easy peasy lemon squeezy. And we all know a driver’s licence is required for many jobs. Thus, ensuring teenagers obtain a driver’s licence is investing in our workforce.

“I meet so many young offenders,” says Gerry Marshall, a correctional officer now stationed in Goose Bay.

“I say, ‘what’s your passion?’ They say, ‘driving.’ Our whole system lends itself to those people with (home) supports. (Driving) is what all boys dream about and nobody seems sensitive to that,” she says, explaining she’s met many people who have never had the chance to get a driver’s permit.

First of all, Motor Vehicle Registration (MVR) is only open during school hours, so writing a permit or licence test requires a teenager to pip off school.

And it’s not like there’s a government service office on every corner around here like in Alberta, for example, where the service has been privatized. A teenager in town is going to need to take a bus or get an adult to drive them to Mount Pearl the same as a teenager in Straitsview on the Northern Peninsula has to travel 30 kilometres to St. Anthony to write a test.

Once a teenagers make their way to a motor vehicle division, if they don’t pass the test the first time they have to go back and do it all again on another day. How many bosses will be sympathetic to a parent who asks for two or three mornings off work in order to get their child to a permit test? If writing the permit test were offered in high school, then we wouldn’t run into this problem.

Finally, there’s the money required. Thankfully, you only have to pay for a permit once you pass the test. Then it’s $40 to get that lovely piece of government issued photo ID.

Then comes driving school if you so choose. That’ll set you back at least $700. No. 3 just did two weekends of driver’s training for $1,055. That price includes his yet-to-come in-car lessons and he paid almost half himself. But how many people have an extra $1,000 kicking around?

Then you still have the cost of the licence test — $50 — and the photo ID, $100.

Of course, it may be cost prohibitive at this point to offer in-car driving lessons to high school students due to exorbitant insurance costs.

In an ideal world, we could have fenced compounds across the province like the one at MVR in Mount Pearl, where students could practise driving skills. But even if we got the students to the stage where they could have their learner’s permit and complete the in-class lessons for their licence, they would be entering the real post-secondary world more equipped than they are now.

My husband grew up in Ontario where he completed his driver’s training in his high school. Here in this province, teenagers have to skip school (the same as when they go for a permit test). A parent has to take time off work or a driving instructor can bring them to MVR.

If they don’t pass the first time, they have to pay the $50 test fee again. If on the second try, they wish to use a driving school car, the cost of that instructor and use of their vehicle is roughly $100 per extra hour.

“Without home support, getting a permit may be out of reach for some,” says CO Marshall.

“I know a young fellow; he’s 24 and he owes $37,000 in fines. People say, ‘That’s ridiculous, he should be locked up,’” she explains. “But it all started when (someone) let him drive at 13. That mistake haunts him. He can’t get insurance because he broke the rule of driving with no insurance.”

“(People like him) can’t get their licence until they pay off the fine and even then, they still can’t drive. They need a supportive legal aid lawyer who knows the ropes; who says, ‘how can we work to get rid of these fines?’ ... They need to be walked through the process because the red tape is huge.”

“There are people driving who have never had a licence,” says Sgt. Paul Murphy at the RNC.  “We issue a ticket even if they have no licence number. If you’re driving all the time and getting caught, it doesn’t take long for the fines to build up,” he explains.

And indeed, looking at the fees, I realize it wouldn’t take long at all to accrue the tens of thousands of dollars in fines that we read about weekly in news reports — even for a first offence.

Driving without a licence: $57.50; driving with no registration: $230; and the big dinger: driving with no insurance: $2,300.

“They can get $3,500 in fines in one stop,” says Murphy. “Failure to transfer ownership is a big one, too,” he explains. Young people often buy a vehicle for a couple of hundred dollars that they can’t license because it would never pass inspection. They then pass it around. So every time they’re caught driving it, they get dinged for failure to transfer ownership ($115) on top of whatever other fines they amass.

Another thing Murphy wants to remind people of is that any motorized vehicle falls under the highway traffic act — be it a dirt bike, snowmobile or quad.

“It will affect your licence,” he warns. “Teenagers are care-free, too. They cross the street, follow their friend, don’t look both ways and an accident happens. Then they’re in trouble.”

So, before you jump on your friend’s unlicensed dirt bike to take a spin on some back road, take heed to what Murphy says, because that first ticket could change the course of your life. And let’s hope in the future our provincial government will introduce driver’s training into the high school curriculum. It will give young adults a jump start on their future.

For a list of government service centres, go to www.servicenl.gov.nl.ca/department/contact.html#locations.

For a list of traffic fines, go to http://assembly.nl.ca/Legislation/sr/statutes/h03.htm#Sched_.

Susan Flanagan is the mother of three drivers — so far. She can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.