Editor’s Note: This story is part of our efforts to highlight News Literacy Week. WCPO is working with the News Literacy Project to partner with Hughes Stem High School, where students Justice Ferrell and Isaiah Cowins helped lead the reporting on this story.
Many public and private high schools used to offer driver’s education courses to their students. But starting in the 1990s, many schools removed those classes.
No Cincinnati Public Schools offer driver’s ed courses. Ohio Law says anyone younger than 18 years old is required to take driver’s education courses in order to get a license. At the age of 18, no classes are necessary.
Because the classes are no longer offered in schools, it can be a challenge for teenagers, such as 17-year-old Zane George, to find affordable, accessible lessons. Classes range in cost from $400 to $800.
That kind of price led to George waiting to get his license.
“In a way, I kind of missed out on a lot,” George said. “I could’ve been driving to school a lot sooner. It was a big issue going on the bus. You had to wake up half an hour earlier than you normally would. It would just make the whole situation a lot easier if I had my license so I could drive on my own and drive my little brother at that time.”
Now, private businesses, including AAA, run the driver education system, which is overseen by the Ohio Public Safety Department in Columbus.
“It became not cost-effective to offer it in the schools. When you think about insurance cost, cost of maintaining and driving cars around, it became cost prohibitive for the schools to house it here,” said Mike Belcuore, manager of the AAA Driver Education Program. “That’s why it moved more into the private business.”
In order to make the classes more affordable and accessible for the younger generation, AAA’s Cincinnati branch launched its online education program as part of its driver’s education curriculum in early January. Now, those looking to get their license can go online and take their 24 hours of classroom training.
The organization said this program will help those who might not be able to pay for driver’s ed courses or have trouble accessing those lessons.
“That engages those teens that are busy, that can’t stay after school because they have a sport or another club or work,” Belcuore said. “It breaks up payments. Pay it and start taking it. Let them build up the money they need to then take the in-car” training.
Locally, AAA charges anywhere from $435 to $525. Belcuore realizes that is still a large amount.
“I wish I could offer it at a cheaper rate and let all the kids get their license,” Belcuore said. “I know, especially in some areas, a license could lead to a better chance in life and more opportunity. What’s holding that teen back is they can’t afford it.”
Even so, Belcuore says he has seen an uptick in 16-year-olds trying to learn how to drive.
“For a while, it was going down, down, down,” Belcuore said. “We’re starting to see an uptick of them getting their license when they’re 16. That makes driver’s ed so much more important.”
Anyone below 18 years of age looking to get their license has to spend 24 hours in the classroom, 8 hours of in-car lessons and 50 hours with a parent.
“I would definitely recommend having a driver’s course in the school because, especially for me, I had to wait almost a year and a half with my permit before I finally got my license,” George said. “It slowed down my driving process a large amount.”
Even Belcuore said it would be better if the training was offered in schools.
“Do I wish it was in a facility that would be more readily available for students? Absolutely,” Belcuore said. “I wish it was there. I wish there was a way we could help it get there, but it’s a sad understanding that I know why it’s not.”