Schools offering driving course

CONYERS - Charlie Bryant isn't an average teacher - he lets his students watch videos and later drive around. But he also lectures a little and gives them tests.

Bryant is the driver education instructor for Rockdale County Public Schools and loves his job.

"It's always a lot of fun to teach kids who are motivated, and they all seem like they want to be safe drivers," he said. "A lot of kids are good drivers."

Bryant gives a driver's education class at each of the high schools during the school year, as well as during the summer.

This quarter, he's teaching at Rockdale County High School. From now until Friday, students at Salem and Heritage high schools can register for next semester.

Salem's driver's education will begin Jan. 3, and Heritage's will begin March 14.

Students register for classes at their respective school's registrar's office.

Georgia students who are under 17 years old are required to take a driver's education course before they obtain their driver's license. Once they turn 17, they can obtain a license without the course but must still have a learner's permit and pass the driving test.

The classes have 18 slots at each school. Bryant said the slots often fill up but the class isn't filled due to financial reasons.

"We never have a lack of students who sign up," he said. "Sometimes, we have a lack of parents who can or will pay."

The classes in Rockdale cost $350 per student and must be paid in advance in the form of cash, a bank check or a money order; no personal or business checks are accepted.

To take the class, students need to have a learner's permit and already have 10 to 15 hours of driving with a parent.

"They need to have the basic car control lesson with them because some kids don't know how to operate a car," Bryant said. "I can teach them that, but whenever we do that, it could take two to three hours in the parking lot. In my opinion, that's not a good way to spend the money for the class."

Home-schooled or private school students may be able to enroll in the classes if spaces are available.

During the nine-week class, students will read out of a textbook, hear lectures and drive with Bryant, mostly after school.

The students will learn to park, drive on residential and rural roads in Conyers, change lanes on Ga. Highway 138 and drive on the interstate and through Olde Town Conyers.

"We try to structure driving based on their ability, progress and skill level," Bryant said. "We don't take them on the highway at 5 o'clock the first thing. We try to bring them along slowly."

The class also includes discussions about things the students have seen or have questions about, as well as videos - which Bryant admits aren't the most updated.

"They haven't made any videos with Matt Damon or Tom Cruise in them, or I haven't found them yet," Bryant said.

Once the student successfully completes the class - after 30 hours of class time, six hours of driving and passing a written test with a grade of 70 or higher - Bryant will issue that student a certificate, which could save on car insurance and allows that student to take the state driver's test.

Bryant will hold a driver education course again in the summer, which will have registration open at a later time this school year.

"The major difference (between the school year and summer) is that we do the summer class in 12 days, so there's not that opportunity for a lot of practice outside of school, but parents don't mind the trade-off because of the convenience," Bryant said. "In the school year, it's nine weeks, so there's a lot more opportunity to schedule driving at home every four to eight days between driving lessons."

Bryant said the alternative to the school system's driver education is attending a commercial school or taking a class online through the state.

He said students have told him that the online program is "pretty slack."

"They said it's pretty self-directed with no opportunity for discussion," he said. "The downside is that parents don't get the certificate to get a discount on their insurance."

Wherever the students get their driving education, Bryant said parents need to be involved and that the students need to practice.

"When you learn how to play the piano, the teacher tells you to go home and practice, practice, practice," Bryant said. "Driving is no different."

Still, he said how drivers choose to act is up to them.

"You can't say (driver education) will immunize all kids from a collision. It's going to be their choice to remember to drive carefully, and, hopefully, they will," he said. "I focus on the fact that they're going to have that choice, but this is one of the few times we expect teenagers to act and behave like they're adults and share the road with a lot of people who don't care about anybody but themselves."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.