On Tuesday, May 3rd, the Senate Transportation Committee held a public hearing followed by an exec session for HB 504, a bill relative to online drivers education.
The hearing was well attended by supporters with several young adults testifying. Rep. Sherman Packard and Rep. Tara Sad, both sponsors, spoke to the proven 10-year record of online drivers education in use in 22 different states including California, Texas, and Florida. They also reiterated that students would still need to complete hands-on training with certified instructors, that any programs would have to be approved by the Department of Safety, and online would be an alternative — a choice — for the classroom portion of instruction. These programs have extensive safeguards to prevent cheating as well. Rep. Steven Smith spoke to the access difficulties to drivers ed programs, especially in more rural parts of our state. The young adults said that online drivers ed would provide better learning methods for some students, greater access, more flexibility, as well as lower prices and that would likely increase the number of young people participating in drivers training. As the AAA spokesperson said, there is a 20% decline of 16 and 17 year olds pursuing drivers ed classes, and the availability of online programs would likely put more trained teen drivers on the road.
Below is the testimony of one student who shared her recent personal drivers ed experience. Our testimony is also included below.
The only opponents to speak were Rep. George Sykes, Rep. Thomas Walsh, and members of the NH Drivers Education Teachers Association. It was ironic that the Representatives said they received drivers education from family members, yet want to deny it for today’s youth. They also spoke very despairingly of teens saying they spend too much time on computers and believed that is why they are ill prepared when they reach age 16 and begin driving. When Rep. Tara Sad was testifying, we heard Rep. Walsh remark to Rep. Sykes that “it is terrifying” that parents might teach their children how to drive.
Although the sponsors and public made compelling arguments, the committee killed the bill in a 3 to 1 decision. Sen. Regina Birdsell made the Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) motion, seconded by Sen. Dan Feltes. Sen. Nancy Stiles, chairman of the committee, agreed. Only Sen. Gary Daniels spoke in support of the bill, saying online education is a proven model and it is the right time for it in the Granite State. Rumor has it that senate majority leader, Sen. Jeb Bradley, was against the bill, so that is why the committee killed it. It is very disappointing that the committee decided with the union and not students or common sense.
The entire senate is expected to vote on HB 504 next week Thursday, May 12th. Please contact your senator with a polite and brief note, asking him/her to overturn the committee’s recommendation and support the bill. You may email the whole senate at once at firstname.lastname@example.org, but it is generally less effective. Note that the House overturned the ITL committee recommendation on the floor in a roll call vote. It can be done, but only with a major effort by concerned citizens.
Jeff Woodburn — District 1, Dalton
Jeanie Forrester — District 2, Meredith
Jeb Bradley — District 3, Wolfeboro
David Watters — District 4, Dover
David Pierce — District 5, Lebanon
Sam Cataldo — District 6, Farmington
Andrew Hosmer — District 7, Laconia
Gerald Little — District 8, Weare
Andy Sanborn — District 9, Bedford
Molly Kelly — District 10, Keene
Gary Daniels — District 11, Milford
Kevin Avard — District 12, Nashua
Bette Lasky — District 13, Nashua
Sharon Carson — District 14, Londonderry
Dan Feltes — District 15, Concord
David Boutin — District 16, Hooksett/Manchester
John Reagan — District 17, Deerfield
Donna Soucy — District 18, Manchester
Regina Birdsell — District 19, Hampstead/Windham/Derry
Lou D’Allesandro — District 20, Manchester
Martha Fuller Clark — District 21, Portsmouth
Chuck Morse — District 22, Salem
Russell Prescott — District 23, Kingston
Nancy Stiles — District 24, Hampton
May 3, 2016
To: Senate Transportation Committee
From: Michelle Levell, School Choice for NH and the NH Liberty Alliance
Re: HB 504, relative to online drivers education
In traditional education settings we recognize that education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition and the need for differentiated learning methods. It is absolutely appropriate to apply this same understanding to drivers education. Just as some students have computer-based learning in their regular school environments, it makes sense to bring drivers education into that setting, too.
Online drivers education offers two distinct advantages — it can provide an environment with fewer distractions as well as greater flexibility. It is reasonable that some students would learn better without the distractions inherent in a large classroom setting, or the ability to repeat content. Students are also busy with school and work commitments that makes it difficult to attend classes at specific times. Online drivers education provides students with a better fit for their learning needs.
Online options would also help make drivers education more affordable and readily available, particularly for students in remote areas. Currently the full instruction program can cost between $500 to $700 per student which discourages some families from participating. Online program would likely increase the number of young adults receiving formal instruction before seeking their drivers license instead of simply waiting until they turn 18 years old.
Opponents argue that it will cost jobs and that drivers ed teachers need the classroom to build rapport with students that carries over to the hands-on driving portion. These are the same kinds of apprehensions teachers raise whenever alternative learning methods are considered such as homeschooling, charter schools, and online education. The similarity is obvious — many of the states that offer online drivers education programs refer to them as “parent taught” or “home study” programs. Two members of this committee are long-time members of the Senate Education Committee and are very familiar with the overall success of NH’s homeschool and charter school communities. Also, New Hampshire already offers online education through the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS), hunter ed, and boaters ed. Couldn’t our state consider drivers education in a similar manner?
Online drivers education is not an untested or new concept. In fact it is already established in 16 different states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
To be clear, HB 504 would allow an online program to replace only the in-class portion required for those under 18 years old seeking a drivers license. It does not remove the hands-on driving instruction and observation time with credentialed instructors and supervised time with parents. This bill also does not alter the requirement for applicants to pass the DMV’s written and driving tests.
Online drivers education is a reasonable, common sense bill. It puts more options within reach for families and recognizes the need for differentiated learning methods and the increasing presence of computer-based education. Please give HB 504 an Ought to Pass recommendation.