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Driver-ed courses swell with DMV rule change

As of January, teenagers who successfully complete a state-approved driver education program will be spared the stress of a driving test by the DMV, and the programs are reporting increased enrollments since the rule change.

It doesn't make sense to retest teens who already have been tested, said David House, spokesman for Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services.

Teens age 15 to 17 with a provisional, Class C instruction permit who have 50 hours of adult-supervised driving experience and have passed an Oregon Department of Transportation-certified driver education class will not be required to take the DMV's 15-minute, $9 road test. However, they still have to take the DMV's written exam.

Teens who choose not to take a driver education class must log 100 hours behind the wheel and take both tests.

In 2011, 7,819 students statewide completed a driver education program before getting their license; 15,695 students opted to put in their 100 hours and forego the class, according to ODOT's 2014 Traffic Safety Performance Plan.

Kenneth Jones, coordinator of Rogue Community College's driver education program, said there has been a noticeable increase — 29 percent — in enrollment since the DMV began waiving the road test for students who passed the course.

In 2012-13, 350 young drivers enrolled in RCC's program.

"This year, we will have trained 450 students, all teens 15 to 17," Jones said.

Southern Oregon Driver Education Inc. has seen a 50 percent increase in enrollment over last year, said Helen Jones, operations manager.

Before this year, the average class size was between 15 and 20 students. Now classes range from 25 to 30 students, Jones said, adding that parents are already registering their teenagers for the summer session.

Both local programs include 30 hours of in-class instruction, six hours of driving and six hours observing a peer driving.

At the end of the session, the student is tested by a certified driving instructor. The driving test lasts between 20 and 30 minutes.

"We have specific mapped-out routes, and there are certain skills we observe," Kenneth Jones said. "There are 130 things we observe during the test, and to pass, they must get above 80 percent."

Skills include changing lanes, signaling, adhering to traffic laws and driving on the freeway, which is not part of the DMV road test.

"Their driving test is equivalent to or exceeds our driving test," said House.

Helen Jones said many parents prefer to have their children tested by an instructor they are familiar with.

"We make sure they know their skills before they go out on the road," she said.

"I personally would like to see this (rule) extended to drivers 18 and older because driving (car crashes) is the primary cause of death for people ages 15 to 20 years old," she added.

According to a 2005 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, teen drivers who receive formal training are 11 to 21 percent less likely to crash than those trained by a parent.

Taking a driver education class also lowers insurance premiums, decreases the likelihood of traffic incidents and increases life expectancy as "traffic collisions are the No. 1 killer of teens in America," Kenneth Jones said.

Teens who are tested through a driver education program also avoid the DMV's busy waiting room, he added.

"This helps the DMV," he said. "It helps students, and it helps parents."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.