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Could Iowa teens just learn to drive from their parents? It’s likely to become law.

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KWWL) -- A new bill in the Iowa Legislature would allow parents to exclusively teach their children how to drive.

Senate File 546, passing the Iowa House last week 59-34, eliminates the requirement for a driver's education instructor for all Iowa parents, something already allowed for those whose children are homeschooled. The bill increases the hours for driving with a parent to 30, the current requirement is 20 hours with a parent.

"I can tell you the amount of time I spend with that child in driver's education far outweighs the amount of time I received when I went through driver's education in the school system,” said bill sponsor Rep. Joel Fry, a Republican representing Osceola.

Fry, who homeschools his children, says throughout the pandemic parents have reached out to him to ask why they couldn't just teach their kids driving on their own.

"Many students today are behind on their driver's education due to COVID or those schools who didn't come back to in-person learning,” Rep. Fry said.

The lawmaker from Osceola argued no one has more of a vested interest in a child's driving education than their own parents.

About 35,000 Iowa teens take driver's education each year, about 70% of driver's education instruction in the state. The rest consists of instruction taught at public schools, community colleges, and the parent taught program. Only about 500 teens learn exclusively from their parents each year.

Steve Stonehocker, Iowa DOT Program Coordinator for Driver's Education

Democrats tried to put the brakes on the bill, saying the requirements for parents to take over driver's ed for their children was too loose.

“Just because you have a valid driver's license doesn't mean you're qualified to teach someone to drive,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City. Steckman is a former educator.

Parents must have a clear driving record for the past 2 years to officially educate their kids on the rules of the road.

Rep. Mary Mascher, another former teacher, also opposed the bill saying the wheel could be “a deadly weapon.”

Local driver's ed teacher Jay Goulden agrees, saying stakes are higher when your classroom is on the road.

"You may flunk a math test or a science test and down the road get a chance to take that again. Out here if you make a mistake on the road you may get not another chance,” said Goulden.

Mascher also said that parents don't always make the best role models. Goulden agreed that bad habits can be picked up by teens, sharing one statement he recently heard from a current student.

“'Well, my dad just puts it right between his knees.' No, we don't have between the knees steering here. We just don't do that," Goulden told them.

He knows that parents question the price of a private driver's education course, which typically runs about $350. Goulden says to install an emergency brake on the passenger's side, something common for a driver's ed car, it costs about the $300.

The Iowa Department of Transportation says there are still costs with the current parent taught program for homeschooled students. Online curriculum costs between $100-$120 on average plus additional insurance costs for a student driver.

The majority of students taught by a private instructor, public school, or community college receive a waiver for a driver's test by a state examiner, according to the Iowa DOT. Those in the parent taught program aren't able to waive such a test.

The bill, likely to be passed by the Iowa Senate this week, also eliminates time requirements for driver's education on substance abuse, railroad crossings, and more. It simply states that such topics are required to be taught.

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Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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