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Minnesota Legislature

Online driver's education

Published (3/6/2009)
By Mike Cook
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A driver’s education instructor in Minnesota can be partially trained online, but a teenager learning how to drive cannot.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park) would change that.

HF575 would allow the 30-hour classroom portion of driver’s education to be Internet based, provided the program has been approved by the Department of Public Safety. Behind-the-wheel instruction would still to be done in the traditional way.

“This simply states that this is an option,” he told the House Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division March 4.

Approved by the division on a split-voice vote, the bill next goes to the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee. A companion, SF766, sponsored by Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan), failed to get the approval of the Senate Transportation Committee one day earlier.

DriversEd.com founder Gary Tsifrin said the course proffered by his company benefits students who live a long distance from a training program, families that struggle transporting a learner to and from a driving program and students who want to take a full class load during the school day and take driver’s education at a more convenient time.

“For some kids, this is the best medium,” said Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove). “If you’re not prepared to take the permit test you’ll fail.”

Among concerns addressed by opponents were that online training does not provide for different scenarios and there is no guarantee students are following along intently. Tsifrin said his company’s program asks questions every so often to ensure that a student is paying attention.

Chip Hayssen, owner of Safeway Driving School, said the classroom offers more opportunity for discussion, practical demonstrations, guest speakers, local stories, interaction with other students and accountability for every student. “The Internet can’t deliver teaching moments.”

“When my own children were learning how to drive, having someone talking about the current weather conditions, hazards on local roadways, pointing those things out to young people has made a huge impact on them as drivers,” said Rep. Marsha Swails (DFL-Woodbury).

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