Driver’s Ed: Why 30 Hours?

Catherine Cossaboom, Editor

School had let out for Thanksgiving Break, but I wasn’t quite done with my classes for the week. I had to go to driving school for the entire weekend in an attempt to fulfill half of my 30 hours of required driver’s education classroom time. The class was 9 am to 5 pm on both Saturday and Sunday, and the hours were long.

As the hours dragged on, I was struck by just how drawn-out the class seemed. I had nothing in particular against this class itself. The teacher was good; he was very knowledgeable about the material and even cracked a few jokes. But 30 hours is a lot of time.

Georgia mandates that all 16-year-olds who want to get their license must have 30 hours of an approved driver education course. Many states use this 30 hour number, but a few require a lot less. Kansas only requires eight hours. Florida only requires four.

I believe these states are in the right. Though it makes sense to have some classroom instruction, driver’s education should be shortened. Spending 30 hours on one concept is pointless and boring, not to mention counterproductive.

By the end of the first day, my class — of only six teenagers — had already covered pretty much everything we needed to know. We were confident about traffic laws, various types of signs, lines on the road, penalties for crimes and so on. But we were only a quarter done with our time.

The second day came around, and we were forced to do the same thing over again. Instead of discussing new material, we zoned out and watched videos recycling the old material: the same old concepts in one driver’s ed video after another.

We started to comment only on the years the videos were made, the states they were made for, the quality of the videos, and the skill of the actors (hint: not much). We began to ignore the actual content in the videos and focused only on the background music, the grainy screens. One of California’s driver’s ed videos looked like a student project. Another video was made in the 1950s with people driving around in Model T Fords and those typical exaggerated actor voices from that era.

There was very little new material, so this was the only way we could feasibly spend our time, and it was far from interesting. And it was very, very far from productive. I still have 15 hours left, and I’m not looking forward to it.

Driver’s ed itself is mainly common sense. Once you spend an hour or two learning the traffic laws, what the various road signs mean and a few rules for thumb, you can pretty much start applying it to the road. I get that the course is there to keep us safe and prevent us from harming ourselves or others, but it doesn’t take 30 hours to successfully achieve that goal.

In fact, if less time was required, the students wouldn’t be buckling down in survival mode, zoning out at the prospect of a long, empty amount of time or — if taken online — an extremely boring webquest. Instead, we might have more energy and be excited to take a fast course in driving and to learn quickly. Then, we might actually retain the information that we are given.

Even though my class was decent compared to other horror stories I have heard, it was clear that nobody in the class actually agreed with the amount of time we were spending… other than “it’s the law.” It would be so much more productive for all of us if we kept the classroom time and boredom to a minimum, so we could develop the necessary driving skills without unnecessary headache and disapproval.

In the end, to while away the hours, my class ended up watching “Canada’s Worst Driver,” a Canadian game show where they find eight terrible drivers and make them run courses to attempt to improve their driving skills. The show was bland, but we looked forward to each episode. Santana and her crazy friend Jim Bob, the taxi driver who couldn’t drive, the pilot with no confidence on the road… Finally there were some characters instead of laws.  

Perhaps we could focus more on practical instead of theoretical instruction. Perhaps we could care more about student well-being. Perhaps we could shorten the 30 hour requirement to something reasonable for the amount of material covered and have more time to focus on other aspects of our busy high-school lives.