By Daniel Silliman
Clayton County's 4,500 10th graders can now get online driver training at the public libraries, after a grant provided the six branches with new computers.
"The computers are installed and ready to go," said Flora Hazelton, assistant director for branch services.
The Clayton County Public Library System has purchased 12 driver-training computers, two for each branch location, which are set apart for use by 15-and 16-year-olds, working on the 30 hours of online training required by the state. The computers were paid for with a $14,700 grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.
Joshua's Law went into effect, in Georgia, on January 1. The law requires 30 hours of state-approved, online drivers training in addition to 40 hours of supervised driving, for teens looking to get a driver's license. That online requirement can be challenging to young people without a computer or Internet access in their home, Hazelton said, and so the library is trying to meet that need.
"We do have a somewhat lower rate of home computer ownership than the rest of the general metro area," she said.
The rest of the libraries' computers are available only with a time limit and on a first-come, first-served basis. The 12 dedicated computers can be reserved, have a one-hour time limit set to match the online class time, and are only available to juveniles.
The driver-training computers are in a reserved zone in the young adults section of each library branch. Reservations can be made with the youth librarian, and each library has the seven-page list of state-approved courses.
Hazelton said they are expecting about 5,000 10th graders to use the computers, every year, to meet the state's graduated license requirements. When not reserved by would-be drivers, the computers will be used by other children who have parental approval.
The Clayton Library System is the only one in the metro area with the dedicated driver-training computers, Hazelton said. The need seemed especially urgent when librarians learned that an intersection near the headquarters branch is ranked among the most dangerous in the region.
"Battle Creek and [Hwy.] 54," Hazelton said. "Right near our library is an area where there are a lot of accidents involving injuries. And everyone knows how dangerous Tara Boulevard is."
Joshua's Law is designed to give beginning drivers experience before they get into complicated and dangerous driving situations, reducing the number of teens involved in accidents and the number of teens killed while driving.
From 2003 to 2005, there were 11 deaths associated with teen drivers in Clayton County, according to Governor's Office of Highway Safety statistics. Throughout Georgia, there were a total of 806 teen-driving related deaths, during those three years.
"Most people think of impaired drivers as drivers using substances, but inexperience is also a form of impairment," Hazelton said.
Results from Georgia's graduated driver's license requirements have not yet been released, but a similar program in Canada reduced teen-driving accidents by 27 percent, and an Oregon program saw the state's teen-accident rate drop by 16 percent.