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Driver's education making a comeback

People 18 to 22 will be required to pass a driver’s education course before getting their license, if a bill that passed the state Senate becomes law.

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5583, which passed 41-7 on March 1, also includes fee increases. The measure now moves to the state House of Representatives.

Sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, the bill would require people between the ages of 18 and 22 to take a full driver’s education course by a licensed, private driving school or a school district before receiving their license, beginning on Jan. 1, 2025.

Under current law, a driver’s education course is waived for people over the age of 18 if they satisfy certain conditions, or if they were licensed to drive a motor vehicle or motorcycle outside of the state and have proof of completion of a driver’s education course.

The driver’s license examination fee is raised from $35 to $51 under the bill, and the driver’s instruction permit fee is raised from $25 to $37 beginning Oct. 1, 2023.

The increased portion of the fees would be required to be deposited into a new driver’s education safety improvement account created by the state Treasurer.

Twenty years ago, the state removed driver’s education courses from high schools, and Liias said the state needs to move back to a model where young people can get this training while they are in school.

“I remember in 1996, sitting in my health class at Kamiak High School, taking driver’s ed,” he said. “I don’t remember what I paid, but it certainly wasn’t what we have to pay today at some of our private driving schools.”

Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, the bill would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction to collaborate with the Department of Licensing to establish a grant program to allow schools to offer traffic safety education programs once again.

The bill also requires people between the ages of 18 and 25 applying for a motorcycle endorsement to complete a motorcycle safety education course established by the DOL.

A person between the ages of 16 and 18 receives their intermediate licenses. Under current law, an intermediate license holder cannot operate a motor vehicle between 1 and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or licensed driver who is at least 25 years of age.

ESSB 5583 modifies this law next year and allows intermediate license holders to operate a motor vehicle between 1 and 5 a.m. if accompanied by a licensed driver over the age of 25, or for school, religious or employment activities for an immediate family member.

Liias said traffic fatalities in the state are headed in the wrong direction. In 2022, more than 700 Washington residents were killed on the roads, rising from numbers in the 400s just a few years ago.

The least prepared drivers, who are the youngest drivers, have the highest rate of fatal crashes, he said. DOL data show 71 percent of crashes with a serious injury or fatality involved someone between the ages of 16 and 25.

“We used to think it was as you get older, you just sort of get better at driving,” he said. “What we’ve learned is when you’re better prepared, you’re better at driving.”

“Statistics show that 18-year-olds who haven't completed Driver's Ed, sadly, are the most dangerous cohort on our roadways right now,” he said. “We need to do something to help them be better prepared and keep all of us, including those young drivers, safe.”

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said the state needs to do a better job

King said statistics make it clear people in the 18 to 21 age range have the most fatalities and accidents.

“I truly believe this bill will save lives,” he said. “It’ll save heartache for hundreds of families around this state.”

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