MARQUETTE - Learning to drive is one of the milestones of young life and the state of Michigan has a graduated licensing system - which requires a number of months, courses and tests to complete before a student can hit the road on their own.
In order to be eligible for Segment 1 of driver education in Michigan, a student must be 14 years and 8 months old by the first day of class. Enrollment also requires permission from a parent or guardian.
The class includes 24 hours of classroom work and six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction time. The class must last a minimum of three weeks.
"In Segment 1, we teach the basics: how to handle the car, the rules of the road and right of way, various maneuvers that you have to make. We talk about road rage and things like that and how to be a defensive driver," Donald Woodworth, an instructor with Guardian Driving School in Marquette, said.
"Defensive driving" is a technique taught in driver's education classes that encourages students to be wary of the actions of other drivers.
"It's watching out for the other guy because they may not be paying enough attention and they could hurt you," Woodworth said. "We tell them straight out, if you do this wrong, you could end up dead."
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For more information about Michigan's Graduated Licensing System and to find drivers education programs and driving skills testing in the area, visit www.michigan.gov/sos.
Some of the things young, inexperienced drivers struggle with when they reach Segment 1 are driving in a straight line, making sure to check mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes and keeping an eye on the speedometer.
"We have to teach them how to go straight by watching further ahead and not gripping the wheel so hard," Woodworth said.
Parking and driving too close to parked cars can also present problems for young drivers in training. Nerves can also translate into issues behind the wheel during driving instruction.
"I try to do this with a sense of humor because they are nervous enough as it is," Woodworth said. "Relax, try not to be nervous, have a little faith in your instructor and trust the other drivers up to a point."
After a student completes Segment 1, they are eglibile for a Level 1 license. There is no fee for this license and it required a vision exam along with written approval from parents.
In order to qualify for Segment 2 of driver education, a student must have held a level 1 license for three consecutive months and have completed a minimum of 30 hours of driving time under the supervision of a parent, guardian or other licensed driver over 21, with parent permission. Two of those 30 hours must take place at night. Segment 2 includes six hours of classroom time and a written exam.
"Segment 2 is predominantly a review course to help them get ready for the road test," Woodworth said.
After passing Segment 2 and completing the required supervised driving hours, a student is eligible to take a driving skills test, also called a road test. Passing the road test allows students to apply for a Level 2 license. After six violation/crash-free months at Level 2, a student is eligible for a Level 3 license, which has full driving privileges with no restrictions.
Students do have the option of waiting until they are 18 to get a drivers license, which does not require any of the classes. Woodworth said that this isn't always the best choice and that the system in Michigan has been helping to decrease the number of teenage deaths in car accidents.
"The law was created so that they would have more time to drive with their parents and as long as the parents have good habits, the kids will pick up on those habits," he said. "And it's working. We've decreased the number of teenagers getting killed in car accidents by 30 percent."
There are costs involved at a number of points in the licensing process and can vary from school to school. Prices usually range from $300-350 for Segment 1 classes and about $50 to take a road test.
It is most important for the students to learn about safe driving to help save their lives and the lives of others.
"Our biggest job and most difficult is to convince these kids that they are not immortal, that it can and does happen to them," Woodworth said. "It's not carved in stone somewhere that you aren't going to hurt, because you could."
Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.