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Classes help parents handle new driving laws

The classes at St. Petersburg Junior College will prepare parents for a larger role in teaching their kids how to drive.

By PAMELA GRINER LEAVY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


Making the move from a learner's permit to a regular driver's license has just gotten tougher and more complicated.

Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law last week a bill requiring a parent, a legal guardian or a responsible adult over the age of 21 to verify, in writing, that they have spent at least 50 hours in the front passenger seat of a vehicle with a teen driving on a learner's permit.

In addition, the period of time that a teen must hold a learner's permit has been extended from six to 12 months.

The law goes into effect this Oct. 1. After that, no regular licenses will be issued to drivers between the ages of 16 and 18 unless the new requirements are fulfilled.

To help ease possible tension and pain, St. Petersburg Junior College is offering "Teaching Your Teens Driver Safety" courses. Registration is now taking place for the four-hour courses, offered Saturday mornings at the St. Petersburg and Seminole SPJC campuses.

In a classroom setting instead of a vehicle, parents will be given a 46-page booklet developed by the American Safety Institute that gives step-by-step instructions on how to teach teens to drive safely.

Lead by example and lead early is the first piece of advice offered by Shirley Johnson, coordinator of the SPJC driver safety program. "What we suggest is not waiting until a child is 15. At age 12 or 13, as soon as they show any interest in driving whatsoever, they start to ask questions. As early as 11 and 12, they are watching you drive. You can't ask your teen not to speed if you are going to speed. Make sure you are teaching them by example as soon as they are aware of your driving."

A written contract is another tool used in the course. While parents are urged to develop their own contracts with their kids, the agreements can be tied to such things as maintaining good grades, not lending a car to a friend and not allowing a passenger into the car with an open container of alcohol.

Parents are urged to include another important clause: If a teen driver is unable to drive, for alcohol-related or other reasons, parents will pick him or her up or pay for a cab, no questions asked.

Teenagers can take DATE drug, alcohol and traffic education courses at SPJC at the same time their parents are in class. Already mandated by state law, the DATE course must be completed before a learner's permit can be obtained. Teens are taught about drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction and abuse, along with any substance that can be related to problems they may have while driving.

Another requirement in the bill Bush signed last week is that anyone under 18 must wear a seat belt, no matter where he or she is sitting in the vehicle. In their respective classes, both parents and teens will be taught that they and their passengers must buckle up.

Johnson cites statistics showing that 54,000 automobile crashes happen daily in the United States, many them involving teen drivers. SPJC is offering the courses out of concern for public safety, Johnson says.

An instructor at SPJC for the past 12 years and mother of two sons, ages 17 and 20, Johnson has personal, as well as professional, reasons for wanting to see the safe driving program succeed. Not too long ago, a close friend lost her only child, a daughter, in an automobile accident.

"There are flowers alongside of the road near Tyrone Mall where both she and her passenger died," Johnson said of the accident. "I can't imagine the pain I would feel if I lost one of my boys in a car crash."

To register

WHAT: Teaching Your Teens Driver Safety

COST: $30 for the four-hour course

TIME AND PLACE: June 24, July 15 and Aug. 5, at SPJC St. Petersburg Campus, Fifth Avenue N and 66th Street; July 29 at SPJC Seminole Campus, 9200 113 St. N.

FOR INFORMATION: Registration information also is available for DATE, Drug, Alcohol and Traffic Education courses for teenagers. Call 341-4459 or 341-4489.

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