Wednesday, January 10, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 10, 2001

15,000 students await new driving teachers

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The state has so far certified one private driver instructor to help students enrolled in the mandatory driver’s education program.

Incomplete paperwork has delayed the certification of approximately 100 private driving instructors, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marilyn Kali said. Students signed up for driver’s education courses may need to wait until the end of the month to begin private instruction.

The certification process is a result of a new state law requiring all drivers under 18 to take classes.

About 15,000 teenagers are expected to enroll this year. The Department of Education plans to teach about 3,000 of them this year, but those classes are nearly booked.

A YMCA program beginning Jan. 22 could instruct 5,000 teenagers statewide this year, and 7,000 to 8,000 per year thereafter.

"This is a new law, so we are going through a transitional period right now," said Kali.

The transportation department hopes to certify most of the private instructors by the end of the month. About 80 driving instructors with the Department of Education have been certified for public school classes.

The only private certified driver instructor as of yesterday afternoon was Kermit Brown Sr. of the Kermit Brown Driving School. Brown hopes to begin classes at the end of the month.

State law requires a private driver instructor to pass a six-week certification course, have auto and commercial general liability insurance and a general excise tax license, have a clean driving record and pass a background check.

Gary Au, an instructor with Drive Safe Hawaii, which plans to teach the YMCA driving classes, said there is a backlog of applicants for the certification course.

The six-week instructor course being taught at Leeward Community College sits 20 applicants per class.

Another course will be offered on Oahu in February and every two months afterward.

The state will offer more courses on the Neighbor Islands when there is a minimum of 12 applicants.

Despite the delay, Au said his company should have 18 to 20 instructors certified when the YMCA program goes statewide in April.

Kali estimates there are 15 private driving instructors on Oahu, one on the Big Island, and none on Kauai or Maui. Some areas, including Lanai, Hana on Maui and Pahoa on the Big Island, do not even have state DOE-assigned driving instructors.

Kali hopes all of the islands will have some form of driver education available by this summer. The YMCA plans to expand its education program to the Neighbor Islands by April, and the community colleges on Kauai, Maui and Big Island hope to have a driver’s education course available by spring.

Kali said 15 people took the driver’s instructor course on the Big Island, 12 more on Maui, and eight on Kauai, meaning there could eventually be more private instructors on those islands as well.

"We are hoping that by privatizing this industry, there will be more private instructors, but some of them who took the course are having second thoughts of starting their own businesses," she said.

For now, Kali advises parents to accompany their teenagers in driving instruction. In addition to the driving classes, students are also required to complete 50 hours of practice driving with their parents or a qualified license driver.

A new driver’s skills log can be purchased from the state Department of Transportation’s office at 869 Punchbowl St. for $1.

The YMCA program will include personalized on-the-road professional instruction and use of a driving simulator. Cost is $600.

Those interested in signing up for the classes may call the YMCA at 541-5250.

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