Jan. 1, 2007

Is driving a right or a privilege?

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Receiving a driver’s license is a pivotal point in any teenager’s life, but it is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Dassel-Cokato High School offers drivers’ education for ninth graders and is by far the most sought-out elective, according to Brooks Helget, a driver’s education teacher.

Most drivers’ education courses are taken through community education or a private driving school which is offered in the evening.

Helget says it’s better to offer the class during school to better fit student’s schedules and therefore provide a better learning environment.

The in-house class has the same standards in which students must follow the school policy in order to maintain eligibility for the class and/or permit or license which includes passing classes and not receiving any alcohol, drug or tobacco violations.

“If a student can’t pass classes or show up, they probably aren’t responsible enough to drive,” Helget said.

There are three stages in the graduated licensing law provided by the Department of Public Safety, but further instruction are recommended by the parents or guardians in addition to the provisions.

The three stages are: instruction permit, provisional license, and full license. These include a certain amount of class time and behind-the-wheel training along with no violations of the school’s policy. Also, the driver cannot use or operate cellular phones, neither handheld nor hands free, according to the graduated licensing policy.

Helget believes Minnesota driving laws are a bit “watered down,” and could have more limitations including limiting night driving, and the amount of teen passengers. Some states have even increased the driving age to 17, he said.

“There could be a little more restrictions, but that’s where parents need to have an active role,” Helget said.

Helget says a teen’s greatest risk is driving and it is due to their lack of experience, risk taking, and distractions while driving.

“There are so many possible distractions inside a car, especially with passengers,” Helget said.

DC treats driver’s education as a life skill. “It’s a very comprehensive class,” Helget said.

The class covers risk management, physical and emotional behaviors while driving, maneuvers, sharing the road with other drivers, weather conditions, and the natural laws of nature or kinetics.

Helget shows his students a European commercial that demonstrates kinetic energy and what happens to an individual during an accident who isn’t wearing a seat belt.

“The number one way a person dies in a crash is because they get thrown out of the vehicle,” he said.

Helget believes seat belt safety is a modeled behavior. Teenagers wear it not because they are worried they are going to get a ticket, but because their parents do, he explained.

Last year, DC won the Wright County Seat Belt Challenge, which challenged schools to promote and wear seat belts during a period of time. The school received a $500 grant, according to Helget.

Seat belt safety is stressed during child/parent night, sponsored by Safe Communities of Wright County.

Driver’s training students and their parents are required to participate in the one-evening event that provides personal testimonies from drivers, state troopers, and paramedics.

The first parent’s night, in early November, was a success, said Helget, and the next parent night will be Thursday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center.

A survey was given to parents and teens after the program, which showed 100 percent of the parent’s indicated the presentation added value to the driver’s ed program, and 96 percent of the teens agreed. Also, 89 percent of the parents indicated they would change the way they teach their child to drive as a result of the presentation.

According to Helget, “it takes five years for a person to become an experienced driver. . . they need time to practice and develop their skills.”

If teenagers can show their maturity and responsibility in driving, “It can be a great freedom for kids,” Helget said.

Is driving a right or a privilege?

Driving for the first time can be a scary thing but it can also mean freedom and staying out later.

What driver’s training student Molly Range said is the scary part is “having to so many things at one time.”

Of the four students asked whether driving was a right or a privilege, all four said it was indeed a right.

Ian Goodrich explained that a person can still get from point A to point B without driving, it just may take longer.

What may scare them the most is the money factor if they get into a crash.

Brooks Helget’s class had just heard a presentation by Peter Bortenum from State Farm Insurance.

Sarah Prieve couldn’t believe all the “stuff you have to know when it comes to insurance and driving,” she said.

The students explained that the driver’s ed class, to them, was fairly easy.

“You know some things from driving with your parents,” said Range.

Goodrich agreed saying, “It depends on how much you’ve ridden with your parents.”

The students did explain after receiving their license, their parent’s will limit their freedom to drive somewhat including night driving and how many passengers can ride with them.

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