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October 14, 2003
Pawlenty to Tie Drivers Licenses to School Performance

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has proposed making underage drivers licenses dependent on school attendance. Pawlenty describes the link between truancy and criminal behavior and says:

"I have no hesitation linking expectations around school attendance and the privilege of driving," Pawlenty said. "We need to make sure we have the horse before the cart."

"Students need to understand the importance of education and that there are consequences if they don't take it seriously," Pawlenty said in a statement. "Chronic absenteeism is one step away from crime and we need to do everything we can to stop it."

Right now, the only consequences of truancy are borne by the parents; if the truancy becomes chronic, the parents can be taken to court to correct the situation. Truancy undoubtably underlies a significant part of teen crime, and the failure of the system to provide any significant consequences to the teens themselves doesn't do much to reduce the problem. Schools can flunk them, but with the social promotion policies of today's schools, there isn't much threat to that. Pawlenty proposes to eliminate this practice as well. Reaction came swiftly:

Declaring it "government by gimmick" Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville said the Legislature had considered and rejected similar proposals in the past.

"We've had bills in the Legislature that ran into a buzz saw of logistics," said Greiling, the ranking DFLer on the Education Finance Committee.

One problem with Pawlenty's proposal is that students can legally drop out of high school at age 16 with or without parental approval, although Pawlenty says that he will require a special waiver for underage drivers who are not in school. Presumably these waivers would not be granted for underage drivers who are not in school for anything other than hardship or home-schooling reasons.

Overall, Pawlenty's proposal holds some promise. No one has a "right" to a driver's license, and if students aren't fulfilling their responsibilities, the state should take a dim view of putting those kids on the road anyway. I'd also like to see a proposal for a graduated license for underage drivers, allowing them to start driving only during daylight hours and without any other underage people in the car, adding priveleges like expanded driving hours as they accumulate experience and demonstrate responsible driving. Too many kids get on the road and get hurt, killed, and do likewise to others on the road, not because they're bad people but because they're inexperienced and overconfident in their invincibility.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 14, 2003 6:49 PM

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