Ohio programs work to expand teen access to driver education

By Chloe Robertson/Kent State NewsLab

Out of the 186,484 people who applied for a driver’s license in Ohio in 2018, only 47% were under the age of 18 — meaning only those 47% had definitely enrolled in and finished driver training, which is required for drivers get their licenses at 16 or 17.

The state and school districts are now working to help teens access driver’s ed despite the cost.

“First of all, [teens] can’t get in. Second of all, it’s too expensive,” assistant director and training programs administrator of the Ohio Traffic Safety Office, Kimberly Schwind said. “But earlier this year, the Ohio Traffic Safety Office launched a Drive to Succeed Scholarship Program.” 

These scholarships are being provided to local communities of students with higher poverty levels to help pay for their driver training. This program was developed in 2022 to allow eligible teenage drivers to attend driver training classes at no cost to their families. 

“Last spring we awarded 25 of the grants to different entities throughout the state,” Schwind said. “We know the need is really high because we had 72 grant applications and we only had the funding to award 25.” 

Akron Public Schools is also working to help make driver training more accessible to students. Many students struggle to find jobs after high school if they don’t have a driver’s license, APS Director of Special Education Rachel Tecca said. 

“When we started the College and Career Academies of Akron, we really started to kind of engage our business community at a deep level,” said Tecca, who worked to develop that program. College and Career Academies helps high school students prepare for their upcoming careers by providing them with hands-on learning experiences to strengthen their education to employment pipeline. 

“We wanted to make sure our students were college and career ready with their high school diploma,” Tecca said.

APS partnered with Driving Schools of Ohio to set up a scholarship program with driving schools for all APS students. The program offers a discounted tuition rate for driver training and increased accessibility. 

On top of that, APS students are able to take driver training in the comfort of their own school campus. The partnership helped with the expenses of driver’s education, but Tecca says the ability to take the classes in their own school is even better accessibility for students. 

Students could have “the convenience of being able to stay right there in their own school and take classes and do their in-car experiences,” Tecca said. 

Tecca says a driver’s license gets students one step closer to achieving future career goals. With the increased access to driver training programs students can commute to jobs more easily and more safely, while also having the protection of GDL training. 

“It just provides accessibility for students,” Tecca said. “Being able to have your driver’s license provides you a little bit more access to careers.” 

 In 2018, The Ohio Traffic Safety Office worked with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to study teen traffic safety. They found that 18- and 19-year-old untrained but licensed drivers had a higher crash rate than 16- and 17-year-old licensed drivers.

This data shows that licensed drivers with driver training have a lower crash risk than licensed drivers without driver training. 

“Once you turn 18 you’re not required to take driver training, and you’re also not experiencing any of the GDL (Graduated Driver Licensing) protections,” Schwind said.  “And so we know that those drivers that are licensed after taking driver training are in a much better position.” 

Ohio is one of the 15 states that requires driver training. Ohio driver training includes 24 hours of course instruction, fifty hours of natural driving practice and eight hours of instructed driving. 

Schools used to provide driver’s ed, but in the 1990s third-party providers took over. Schwind says it’s not cheap for driver training schools to provide that instruction, however. They have to factor in the costs of insurance, vehicles, maintenance facilities, instructors and more. 

“Their margins are very slim,” Schwind said. 

Schwind believes The Ohio Traffic Safety Office is working to increase driver training accessibility, capacity and educational quality. 

“These are the things that no higher traffic safety office is laser focused on working on,” Schwind said.

This story was originally published by the Kent State NewsLab, a collaborative newsroom staffed by Kent State students.

Note: This story was corrected on Aug. 13. The final quote from Schwind now includes the word “higher,” whereas the previous draft included the word “other.”

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