The District of Columbia Council is rethinking legislation that requires residents seeking a driver’s license for the first time to take mandatory driver education. The mandate was to go into effect May 1. However, following charges it would create hardships for poor and immigrant communities, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, said the issue will be revisited.
The initial legislation cited the move as a component of the District of Columbia’s Department of Motor Vehicles Vision Zero program that promotes public safety by reducing the number of traffic accidents through driver education. Vision Zero’s goal of zero fatalities in the District of Columbia by 2024, seemed reasonable to community leaders, but its methodology, they said, targeted those least able to afford the courses.
“We have already spoken with Cheh to find out how taking $1,500 worth of driving classes would lower the rates of accidents – especially since the number of fatalities 3 per 100,000, is hardly an epidemic,” ANC Commissioner 1D-05 Arturo Griffiths told the AFRO. “One death is too many, but when you have drivers from other jurisdictions, people who have moved here from other states, new bicycle lanes that begin and end haphazardly, and now, new bus only lanes, accidents are going to occur.”
Griffiths said the mandate would hit working-class people, teens, and immigrants the hardest, given the time constraints and costs. “If this is about safety, rather than money, hold the classes for free in public libraries, churches, or the city’s many recreation centers so that they are accessible and free,” Griffiths said. “Most District residents were taught informally and have safe driving records, so this seems almost predatory in nature without proven data that the courses would make roads safer.”
The DMV provides web links to certified driving schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The legislation requires 30 hours of classroom instruction and eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. The cost is set by the individual driving schools, which offer 10 hours of regular course instruction for about $440.
“We want people to be trained to drive properly, but what does it mean for drivers of modest means,” Cheh said in an interview with NewsChannel8. “We’re effectively saying to people without means that they cannot get a license.”
But District residents are not convinced the mandate will not find its way into law despite community opposition. Citing the recent agreements with Pepco-Exelon, several large scale developments on the Southwest Waterfront, and the now defunct Walmart deal in Southeast, Ward 7 resident Jonas McMillan said he will stay vigilant. “I am very disappointed in this type of shady logic because it falls in line with aggressive ticketing and towing, speed cameras, and fines for everything the Council can think of to oppress residents,” McMillan told the AFRO. “Most of us were taught by family or neighbors how to drive and have great driving records, so perhaps instead of the law, we need to see about adjusting the leadership in D.C.”
DMV Public Affairs Specialist, Vanessa Newton, did not respond to AFRO inquires before press time.