Driver's ed classes key to getting a license

May 17—A driver's license offers a certain amount of freedom to individuals who pass their driving and written tests, but in Tahlequah, that liberty may take some time to achieve.

Tahlequah's pass rate is a little over half at Service Oklahoma locations, according to Britnee Joyner, Service Oklahoma senior public information officer. She said data collected from drive tests conducted from Jan. 1-May 11, 2024, by Service Oklahoma shows 578 tests have been administered in Tahlequah, and 300 passed. The Tahlequah pass rate is 51.9%, while the overall rate of Oklahoma is 67%; out of 19,721 tests, 13,293 passed.

James Thompson, Service Oklahoma driver's license examiner, said the agency requires participants to take both a written and drive test. For the physical test, participants must complete basic driving skills, such as making proper turns and stops, following traffic signs, and showing they can safely operate a vehicle. The written test has participants answer questions over basic knowledge of related state laws.

"If you're under 18, you have to get a learner's permit first and hold it for six months. To do that — you get it at 15 and a half, so if you're under 16, you have to have driver's [education] or be enrolled in driver's ed," Thompson said. "If you're over 16, you do not have to have driver's ed, but either way, once you get the learner's permit, you have to hold it for six months before you can take a drive test, and have completed driver's ed if you were in [it]."

Those over 18 must hold a permit for 30 days before taking a driver's license test.

Tahlequah Public Schools Assistant Superintendent DeAnn Mashburn said TPS offers driver's ed during both school semesters for free, but the summer session costs $250. Mashburn said each semester, around 150 students take driver's ed. The district only allows a student to enroll in a summer session if at least 20 sign up.

"I think TPS students are fortunate that we continue to offer driver's education during the school year, because many school districts no longer offer it," Mashburn said. "We think it is important to our students and families and believe we have excellent driver's education teachers at Tahlequah High School that have produced confident and capable drivers."

The driver's ed curriculum requires students to complete 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of drive time with a certified driver's ed teacher.

"The curriculum used is the approved Oklahoma Driver's Manual, so that will assist them in passing the written test and give them knowledge for the driving test," Mashburn said. "We also prepare them for the driving test by allowing students to drive at least six hours in the car with a certified instructor. The instructors have a checklist of skills they want the students to master before they take their driver's exam for their license."

David Qualls, a TPS driver's ed teacher, said that once students complete the course, they will get their learner's permit, and the requirement to take the written course is waived. Qualls said if a student does not pass the class, it s often due to attendance issues or dropping the class.

Mashburn said more than 95% of students pass the exam and receive their licenses.

"Sometimes students won't go right after the class, and then they call us when they have been out of school for a while, wanting our verification letter that they took driver's education at TPS so they can try for their license," Mashburn said.

The skill that makes TPS students the most nervous is parallel parking, Qualls said. That's why the class spends an entire week on parallel parking.

"Service Oklahoma data shows failing to stop at a stop sign, running a red light, parallel parking and not obeying the speed limit are the top skills test takers struggle with during their drive tests," Joyner said.

Joyner said other roadblocks to taking the test are having an expired vehicle registration, brake lights that don't work, and a cracked windshield. A horn and proof of valid vehicle insurance are required by those taking the test. More than 1,100 Oklahoma applicants in 2024 failed the vehicle inspection at the start of the drive test.

Joyner suggest those planning to take the test practice behind-the-wheel training and review the official Oklahoma Driver's Manual and vehicle inspection checklist.