By Oren Dajci
As high school students in the St. Johns County School District (SJCSD) approach legal driving age, many freshmen and sophomores are looking for instructors to teach them how to drive. While there are private driving schools, the SJCSD offers their own driver’s education courses that students can take before they start their regular school day. For homeschooled students, Florida Virtual School students, or students not in school over the summer, the driving lessons can be taken at the schools these students are zoned for.
To get started, students can register for courses only at the St Johns County Tax Collector’s website at www.sjctax.us by clicking the Student/Driver Education page under featured resources. The classes come in two phases, both and are available to all SJCSD students older than 14 and a half. To register for Phase I, students have to email their information, last five digits of their social security number, their parent’s information, and requested class date to firstname.lastname@example.org. The course costs $20, which is non-refundable and must be paid on the first day of class. It takes place 8:00-9:00 a.m. before school for a 12-day cycle. Information is given to students in classroom lectures, with the state approved Learner’s Permit knowledge exam taken by students on the last day.
For Phase II, students must provide their information, high school, address, parent information, emergency contacts, health concerns, and Florida drivers permit number. In addition, they must have at least 20 hours experience driving before they take the course. To get a certificate of completion students must attend all days with no make-ups provided. The course costs $300 and takes place over 27 hours, beginning with a two-hour classroom lecture and then a 25 hour “Behind the Wheel” portion that starts on an off-road site and introduces students to driving on roadways and control of braking, backing, parking, off road recovery, hydroplaning, and lateral control movements with a SJCSD state certified instructor. This driving section starts in an off-road site and then transitions to real traffic situations driving in neighborhoods, downtown, and interstate areas. In total, the sessions are seven days and at the end student drivers should have a good understanding of the rules of the road and how to drive, preparing them to get their driver’s license and start driving on the road.
Prior to Phase II, students can take a Driving Track Day where they take an eight-hour course, spending an hour in a classroom lecture and then seven hours behind the wheel. Admission costs $150 and students must include the same information as Phase II but only need their permit and 10 hours of driving experience before they register. The seven-hour behind the wheel portion of the training provides students with a similar experience to Phase II. The Driving Track day can be taken as a preview of what students will have to do, giving them more driving hours as well.
Like regular private driving programs, the SJCSD driving programs help prepare students for driving. Mr. Veatch, a science teacher and driving instructor for Ponte Vedra High School (PVHS) recommends the driving courses he teaches because he sees improvement. He said that most students knew how to drive before the course, but throughout the course they became more confident behind the wheel. He stated, “We mostly practice driving in real life. Go to the track one day and go fast. Parking and left and right turns, going backwards. Students can start off having no driving knowledge and end the courses at 16 being fully able to drive.”
Depending on the insurance company, students may be eligible for discounts anywhere from 5 to 20 percent off insurance after taking a driver’s education program. The SJCSD courses, and other defensive driving courses may save students more than 20 percent on insurance, which could end up being hundreds of dollars. Most insurance companies have different rules, so students have to check with their insurance companies what discounts they can get from taking the SJCSD courses.