Charlotte teens may pay more for driver's ed as N.C. state funding fades
Families in Charlotte are about to pay a lot more for driver's education classes, but smart parents can avoid the bumps in the road by carefully choosing a quality program.
Under a state budget plan passed this month in Raleigh, the North Carolina Senate cut subsidies for driver education classes in public schools and removed a limit on what school districts can charge for that instruction.
Currently, public schools charge up to $55 for driver's ed classes and on-road instruction, but if the North Carolina House agrees on the budget provision, as is expected, parents could have to pay about $350. That brings the price more in-line with private driving instructors in the Charlotte area.
School vs. private driver's education
Parents of drivers-to-be will need to start thinking like a consumer about where to send their children for driver's ed now that the private and school-affiliated program prices are close. How do they compare?
Private driving instructors in the Charlotte area charge between $300 and $350 for classroom and on-road instruction.
While school programs boast the convenience of driving classes right after school, private instructors offer flexible times that might appeal to families whose children already are committed to activities such as sports or after-school jobs.
Also, public school driver's ed programs sometimes have longer waiting lists to get classroom and road instruction. That might change if the price goes up, however.
Do your homework before picking a class
Whether the choice is school-affiliated or private program, parents should vet the driver's education classes and instructors, recommends Stephen Phillips, traffic safety manager for highly rated AAA Carolinas.
Talk to the instructor and find out what his or her mission is. "Look for classroom structure — is it a place you'd want to be for 30 to 36 hours?" Phillips says.
He recommends asking:
- Does the program emphasize passing the license test, or does it focus on real-world decision making and critical thinking?
- What will the program teach about basic traffic maneuvers, such as parallel parking, which isn't part of the North Carolina license test?
- Do instructors teach how to use technology such as back-up cameras?
- For past students, what is their pass/fail rates on the license exam?
Skip driver's ed?
As driver's ed costs in North Carolina increase, there's always one other option for teens: Take no class at all.
North Carolina's graduated licensing program offers students a choice: They can test for a license at 16-years-old after they have completed 30 hours of classroom instruction and performed 12 hours of on-road supervised practice (with a provisional license) and 60 hours driving with a parent (while having a learner's permit). Or teens can skip the classes and hours in the car with a parent by waiting to take the test until they're 18.
Phillips says that more driver's ed changes may be coming in North Carolina. Officials and lawmakers are considering whether to offer online classes to replace classroom instruction, as is done in several states. That could bring consistency to the instruction new drivers receive in the state, he says, and bring down costs.
To make the most of the changes, here are some additional tips on choosing a driving instructor.