Ohio could be among the first states to allow app-based driver’s education training

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Can an app teach driver’s education?

Columbus-based Grange Insurance is working on an app to help teach teen drivers and point out problematic practices. However, current state law requires certified driving instructors to teach eight hours of behind-the-wheel training.

In response, Ohio lawmakers introduced House Bill 425 and Senate Bill 218, which would allow student drivers to complete eight hours of in-car training with instruction from an app. If it passes, Ohio would be among the first states to allow app-based driver’s education training.

There are some rules: The student driver must also have an eligible adult in the car and must complete 24 hours of classroom training.

The Ohio Director of Public Safety would need to approve any app to ensure it meets the state’s standards for teaching individuals how to drive.

The app could make driver’s education more accessible to teenagers who live far from a driving school or who can’t afford between $400 and $800 for in-car and classroom instruction. Parents could also use the app during the 50 hours of in-car practice student drivers must complete.

“Sometimes a young driver might listen to an app better than a parent,” said Rep. Roy Klopfenstein, R-Haviland, one of the bill’s sponsors.

An app can’t ‘stop the car’

But an app isn’t a substitute for a trained driving instructor, said Mike Belcuore, AAA’s manager of driver education and operations.”I’m not against technology in this. I think there’s room for it in driver’s ed and I think there’s room for it in in-car instruction. My concern is just throwing an app on an untrained person.”

Instructors have cars equipped with a second brake, which allows them to put students in less comfortable scenarios to test their driving skills, Belcuore said. “An app doesn’t have the ability to stop the car or steer the car.”

Klopfenstein said there will always be a need for trained driving instructors because each student learns differently.

“It is not, in my mind, to replace the licensed driving instructor,” he said. “It’s to aid in getting better drivers, and that’s the bottom line.”

Grange Insurance’s Innovation Officer Jason Wrather said in a statement: “(T)he app is envisioned as a support tool to improve driver training outcomes and safety, and not as a replacement for trained, in-person driver education practices.”

What’s next for the bills

Klopfenstein also said he’s not concerned that the app would distract parents or student drivers. “My GPS, I don’t have to look at anymore. It talks to me,” he said. “Young drivers adapt to the electronics quicker than older folks.”

What about those underlying problems with accessing driver’s education? Belcuore acknowledged that finding a qualified instructor outside Ohio’s largest cities can be a “real challenge,” but he said an app isn’t the only solution. Another frequent complaint was backlogs during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Belcuore said those wait times have dropped dramatically.

The bills were introduced earlier this year and await committee hearings. They must be reintroduced if they aren’t passed by the end of the year. Grange’s Wrather said there is no specific timetable for the app’s launch at this point.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.