Florida mom Cynthia Covington thinks her son Eddie, 14, is ready to conquer the road after completing an online driver’s education class this year.
"He is like the police now whenever we are in the car, he's correcting our every move," she says.
The online course her son took required him to view graphic videos of car crashes that were the result of drunken driving and other irresponsible choices, she says.
"It was like they put a shock in him, they scared him at first," she says.
At least 30 states require new drivers to complete a driver’s education course. Some states offer driver’s education classes in high schools, but many states have eliminated programs because of budget constraints, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In at least 15 states, new drivers can complete online driver’s education classes, according to a report from the same agency on online basic driver education.
With so many online driver’s education classes available, parents and new drivers should choose wisely. The following three tips can help ensure that an online driver’s education program is legitimate.
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1. Make sure the program is approved in your state: "Sometimes what people will do is they’ll sign up for a driver’s ed course that might be approved in, say, California, but not approved in Texas, and so they spend, unfortunately, all that time going through a course that is not going to work for their state," says Michael Rogers, a former truck driver and driving instructor. He now operates Drive-Safely.net, a site that offers safe driving tips and reviews of online traffic and driving schools.
Prospective students should check with the state agency that handles licensing, usually the department of motor vehicles or public safety, to verify that an online driving school is approved, Rogers says.
2. Go with a school that has been around for a while: "There are a lot of these online schools that kind of pop up and they are not very high quality," Rogers says. The best schools have been around for at least 10 years, he says. At these schools, the content is usually delivered through more sophisticated means, he says, such as videos and interactive games.
Covington says that she was impressed by the course her son took. He had to view videos, write reflective essays, take multiple-choice quizzes and was even required to have discussions with his parents about insurance and other topics, she says.
3. Read the fine print: Many commercial online driving schools will charge a reactivation fee if a student does not complete the course within a certain amount of time, Rogers says. "I see a lot of complaints about that because people don’t know up front."
Many classes run from about $50 to $100, which generally does not include behind the wheel instruction.
Rogers also suggests that students check out an online school through the Better Business Bureau before signing up.
In Florida, where Covington lives, her home-schooled son was able to take a state-run online driver’s education course for free through the Florida Virtual School. Several others offer state-run online driver's education classes to public school students as well.
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Virginia teen Jessica Bergquist, 18, said on Twitter that she took an online driver's education class because she is home-schooled and it fit her budget better.
"The experience was quick and satisfying, and while a lot of it was information I already knew, I did learn things that were new to me and that I'm sure will be useful to me when driving," she said.
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