A bill under consideration in the Iowa Legislature regarding driver’s education instruction would create more problems than it would solve.

There are lots of things about which Mom and Dad know best. Driving might or might not be one of them.

Yet Senate File 546 would eliminate the requirement that students receive driving instruction from a certified professional before procuring a license to drive. Instead, the measure, which has already passed the Iowa House of Representatives, shifts the role of instructor to parents, all but eliminating the need for driver’s education.

When it comes to teen drivers, here’s something we can all agree on: Safety should be the top priority. We need to keep students safe as they are learning and develop safe drivers for the long term. Parents as the sole instructors would not be the best way to accomplish that.

Currently, state law requires anyone younger than 18 to take a 30-hour driver’s education course approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation and complete at least 20 hours of driving practice with a parent or instructor.

Driver’s ed teachers say in households with two working parents, it’s not uncommon for the family to struggle to complete even 20 hours of drive-time instruction. Now, that requirement would be upped to 30 hours — not to mention all of the rules of the road, signage and other instruction that come with the classroom work.

And who will deem a teen qualified to receive a license — his or her parent? Gee, what could go wrong?

The parent-as-teacher option is already allowed under state law for families that homeschool, and it was homeschool parent Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, who sponsored the legislation. Fry said it was something that arose during the pandemic when riding in cars with others posed a health risk.

While a change might have seemed more palatable during the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine that a shift to solely parental instruction is a move toward producing safer drivers.

In fact, it seems like it has a greater potential to do just the opposite. Let’s face it, not all parents are great drivers.

Some lawmakers supported the measure because of the expense of driver’s education, which can cost $350 for a student. But materials for parents to teach a similar curriculum would cost upwards of $100 in addition to the hours of time required to teach a teenager everything from parallel parking to changing a flat tire.

Additionally, certified instructors often use vehicles equipped with an emergency brake on the passenger side — a safety measure and something that parents wouldn’t be likely to pay to install.

If the cost is the primary motivating factor, legislation potentially capping that seems more appropriate than eliminating a teen’s time with a driving expert.

Current law mandates a specific period of time be spent on certain subject matter — such as substance abuse and impaired driving. For parents, there would be no such time allotments specified. And if Mom just knows that little Piper or Simon would never touch alcohol, well then why spend much time talking about it?

Young drivers have never faced such risks of distraction as today’s temptation to sneak a glance at an ever-present phone. And they are scarcely aware of how quickly something tragic can happen behind the wheel. Why would we strip away the conditions put in place to help ensure continuity in the manner in which kids learn safe driving practices?

This is hardly a change Iowans are clamoring for, and it would most assuredly result in decreased proficiency among young drivers. Iowa should put the brakes to this legislation.

This guest editorial was originally published by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald on April 25.

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