CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Ohio teens preparing for driver education classes may soon have a new online option for instruction. While the eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction would still be required, lawmakers are considering allowing the classroom portion of instruction to be offered over the internet.
The president of the Driving School Association of Ohio says the State Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider a bill this week that will likely include an amendment that would allow for online driver education course instruction.
Those in favor of online courses argue they offer the same level of safety training as a traditional classroom. They say the classes allow more flexibility for students and make it easier for parents because they do not have to worry about transportation issues. They also argue the non-traditional format can reach non-traditional students who perform better outside the four walls of a classroom.
Those opposed argue safety is being compromised for convenience. They believe students need in-class accountability and that students lose out on critical opportunities for discussions and practical demonstrations.
Kenneth Stigall started Bick's Driving School in Cincinnati more than 40 years ago. He says he is concerned the traditional drivers ed classroom could be in jeopardy if legislators decide to allow online driver's courses.
"You're probably talking about several hundred instructors in the state of Ohio that would lose their job if that passed," Stigall said.
While he believes it would cause his business to cut classroom instruction positions in half, he says it could be even more detrimental to other driving schools.
"It would put a lot of our people out of business totally," he argued.
Chris Flink with DriversEd.com responded with this statement to FOX19:
"In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth: industry groups like ADTSEA show that the online driver's ed option increases business for driving schools and their behind-the-wheel training, and Indiana BMV reports that schools are hiring instructors following the introduction of the online model. There are also now several Indiana-based companies providing online driver's education, creating even more high-value jobs in the technology sector.
Our own experience in Georgia also supports the conclusion that the online option expands the overall market for driver's education, which has resulted in increased competition and increased choice for students. Put simply, driver's education is too important a public safety issue to allow the virtual monopolies of certain driving schools to be the status quo."
Some students, however, say they are not interested in an online option.
"We stare at computer screens all day," driver's ed student Joseph Isham said. "We have computers at our school and I'd rather not stare at it another 24 hours."
Some parents also have no interest in opting for online instruction.
"I'm kind of traditional," mother Susanne Hornsby admitted. "I kind of like things the way they used to be. Sometimes I think they're doing too much technology."
Hornsby worries an online course would not provide the same in-depth instruction as a traditional classroom.
"For me, I think it's safer for [my son] to not be rushing through something that's that important, or that vital," she said. "I mean, that's his life. As it is, I don't think a lot of teenagers take driving as seriously as I think they need to."
A representative from DriversEd.com out of California, however, says online courses are just as effective as traditional classrooms. The company currently operates in fifteen different states. In fact, the company argues online courses increase participation in drivers ed courses by reaching students who would otherwise opt out of the requirement by waiting until they turn 18 to get their driver's license.
"Being in a classroom is the same as being online," driver Amber Sawyer said. "You're still going to get the same knowledge."
"I think it would be just as good," Christopher Weed echoed. "It's just like college. They have classes for college online. What's the difference?"
Stigall disagrees, however.
"I think our subject is a little bit more important. You're dealing with people's lives," he argued.
Companies like DriversEd.com are working to get approval to begin offering online courses in Ohio that would be the equivalent of the full 24 hours of required instruction. Ohio's Driving School Association, however, is hoping to at least get passage of a blended model that would allow for some online training while still requiring a certain number of hours in a traditional classroom.