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    The days of coasting through driver's education class in your sophomore year of high school are long gone. Now a good number of the schools in Hawaii do not have the course as an elective in the catalog. Instead, it has become an after-school course offered for a nominal fee.

    Plus, driver's ed is no longer an easily earned credit with no homework involved. No, those days are definitely history, because what was discovered is that it created inexperienced drivers that generated some pretty ominous accident statistics over the years.

    So Hawaii legislators decided to get serious about sending new drivers out onto the roads armed with a solid skill foundation. Thus, a formal driver education program was born. With this came a specific set of prerequisites that prospective underage drivers needed to meet in order to obtain a driver's license.

    Nowadays, the classes offered by the Department of Education fill up fast, whether they are offered in the middle of the school day, after the last bell, or even on the weekends. The courses are popular because not having a shiny certificate of completion from the program means you will not be able to drive. To a teenager in Hawaii, that is like having a beach without waves.

    Once the graduated licensing program came along, driver education became a component of the first tier of a three-tier licensing system. The initial stage is when you acquire a learner's permit. You will need to hold onto the permit for at least 180 days before attempting to move to the next level. In that time, you will need to tackle some required training, including enrolling in two separate driving courses.

    Both courses are offered by the DOE and numerous certified third-party companies, including private driving schools and instructors.

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    Driving Education Class

    A permit is not needed to sign up for this class, as it is classroom-bound. But most prospective drivers enroll just prior to or as soon as they obtain the permit. If anything, waiting until after attending the lecture-intensive program, which covers a good deal of the material in the Hawaii Driver's Manual, should help you ace the written exam.

    Basically, the key to success is finding a certified program and completing it. Not only will you learn a great deal, but you will be a better driver for it.

    Behind-the-Wheel Instruction

    Looking at your options to fulfill this requirement, you might see a couple of choices. A standard class will involve you driving a car for a total of six hours (not all at once, of course). Usually the classes are broken down into four sessions, but it varies with each company.

    The main thing is that you meet the six-hour requirement. Regardless of the schedule differences, you will need an instruction permit before you attend a behind-the-wheel training course.

    Some high schools will direct you to a specific company that they outsource the training to. So if you have any questions on where to go, just contact a school administrator or driver's education teacher.

    The other alternative you might run into in trying to complete this obligation is the simulator class. This may even be how your high school teaches driver education as part of its curriculum. Driving simulators come in different varieties, but they all try to recreate real-life road situations in car-like machines.

    Although they are nifty gadgets, they do not quite compensate for being on the road. Thus, if you attended one of these classes, make sure that the syllabus also includes at least two hours of actual behind-the-wheel training in a bona fide vehicle. Because to meet the state standards for this type of training, you need to have a minimum of four hours in a simulator and two on the road in a regular vehicle.

    Note: You must have an instruction permit before taking a behind-the-wheel course.

    Tips for New Drivers

    Here's a little friendly advice for new drivers from someone who's been there. They don't teach you everything in school!

    • Don't order mega-size drinks at the drive-through. They tip over in the drink holders when you turn or stop, and if you hold the drink between your legs for stability, then you can't operate the floor pedals.
    • Don't try to eat a sandwich or burger while you're driving. The mayonnaise-covered tomatoes will fall into your lap and you'll have to make a snap decision between swerving to the curb (bad) or leaving the grease stain on your jeans (bad).
    • Don't make or receive calls on your cell phone while you are driving. It's bad karma, everyone else on the road will be irritated with you, and you won't realize you're going too slow and swerving all over the place until you cause an accident. Same goes for applying makeup while driving: just don't!
    • Don't under any circumstances send a text message when you're at the wheel. The police officer won't be sympathetic when you explain that you absolutely, positively could not wait until you pulled off the road to text "c u soon" to your best friend, so instead you rear-ended someone while your eyes and thumbs were busy on the keypad.
    • Don't be lame and give in to peer pressure. If some nimrod in the back seat says, "How fast can this thing go?" ignore them―they're not the one who will get busted or cause an accident. Someone in the car has to be the grown-up: you.
    • Don't panic and jump out of the car if you notice a bee on the inside of the windshield. Ever seen your car roll down the street without a driver? You don't want to.
    • Do wear your seatbelt every time you get into a car, even for a short ride. Something as common as stopping suddenly to avoid a cat darting across the street can cause your face to meet your steering wheel. The results won't be pretty, and your prom date will find an excuse to back out.
    • Do be vigilant for other drivers who are not as with-it as you are, and keep your distance. You never know when they will decide to enter your space (since they won't bother to signal), and the element of surprise isn't as fun on the road as it is at a birthday party.
    • Do install a dog barrier in the back of your car before taking Rover for a ride. Rover will want to be in the front seat with you, and trying to swat him back with one hand while steering with the other is a sure way to take out a whole line of parked cars.
    • Do obey speed limits so that you will have time to react should an unexpected obstacle (a person, another car, an animal) appear. Besides, no one will believe you got that huge dent going "only 10 miles an hour."
    • Do listen to your stereo at a low enough volume that you can hear emergency sirens. Those fire trucks are a lot bigger than you, so you'll want to know one is approaching before it runs you over.
    • Do take it easy, pay attention, and take the rules of the road seriously. In a few years when you can honestly say you've never had a ticket or an accident, people will respect you, and it will be an enormous point of pride.

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