New high-tech driving simulators are part of a new push to restore driver's education courses in public schools.
High school driver's ed was nearly universal 30 years ago. Today it is offered in only a fraction of schools in standard curriculum. About 15% of eligible students take high school driver's ed compared with 95% in the 1970s, says Allen Robinson, CEO of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, which represents about 50,000 public and private driver's ed teachers.
Driver's education in public schools, which virtually disappeared a generation ago, could be staging a comeback.
In the back of a second-floor classroom at West Forsyth High School, four students in driving simulators approach stop signs, heed the speed limit and confront the mysteries of four-way intersections.
The simulators — including three computer screens that comprise the windshield, a steering wheel, turn signals, foot pedals, an ignition and gear lever — assess students as they "drive" and score them at the end.
For many of these students, it's their first "behind the wheel" experience. "I think it's a good alternative to actually driving the real thing," says Travis Keeler, 15, a 10th-grader who's never driven. "It does a good job of preparing me to drive. These things are pretty strict. If you mess up, it's going to fail you, but you learn the rules of the road, what to do at intersections, things like that."
His teacher, Robert Fuller, says the simulators are a critical part of his semester-long driver's ed class, which is a half-credit elective and costs parents $100. "The simulator can't take the place of driving, but it … enhances their driving ability," he says.
Driver's ed in the modern era doesn't come cheaply. The simulators at West Forsyth High cost $18,000 each, says Van Flanigan, a vice president of manufacturer Virtual Driver Interactive.