Friday, May 9, 2008

Mandatory Driver's Training - Finally!

Food For Thought 5-9-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

Progress tends to come very slowly in the islands, there are many contributing factors, but today I am happy to report on some progress that I’ve been fighting for for the last 10 years. When I first moved out here 12 years ago I was shocked to learn that there was no drivers education program and no laws requiring one. When our children turned 16 years old, you would just take them in to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, have them take the written and road test, pay their fee and they would then walk away with a driver’s license that allowed them to drive on the roads by themselves. If the parent gave them some instruction and practice, that would be the extent of their formal drivers training and education. We didn’t mandate that they took a course teaching them the laws, or require that they spent so many hours driving with a parent or guardian before being allowed to drive by themselves. And we also didn’t require anyone coming here from another country to take a course teaching them about our laws, they just had to take a test, which they could easily buy the answers from and get their license. It was absolute insanity and was no wonder why we had the kind of drivers on our roads we did.

I’ve been talking about the need for a Driver’s Training school for the past 10 years. Everyone always said, yes, that’s a great idea, someone should do something about that, but for years nothing ever happened. About 4 years ago, Representative Heinz Hofschneider introduced a bill that would have made driver’s training mandatory for anyone turning 16 or for anyone coming in from another country. The governor at the time vetoed it because he knew I was behind the bill and had been pushing it, and because it was being introduced by Heinz Hofschneider, who the governor didn’t like at all either. So politics got in the way of moving forward with a good idea and a good bill, and that was the end of it for a while.

In the next legislature, Congressman Arnold Palacios agreed to sponsor the bill and introduce it once again. We had a different governor this time around, and he had promised to support the bill if it passed both houses and got to his desk. The senate decided to sit on the bill for quite a while, as they have a habit of doing, but they did eventually pass it, and the Governor, true to his word, signed it into law. The law gave the Department of Public Safety 6 months to implement rules & regulations for the new law, and set up standards which would govern Driver’s Training schools. It was evidently not a priority for the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety at the time, and she just ignored the mandate in the law to promulgate rules and regulations within 6 months.

In the meantime, a local teacher, who had been a driving instructor back in the states, decided he would open a Driver’s Training school, since the law had mandated drivers education now. But the 6 months came and went, then it was over a year and still no rules or regulations from the Department of Public Safety. Obviously he wasn’t getting many students since the Bureau of Motor Vehicles wasn’t forcing people to take the mandatory drivers training class before getting their license. They weren’t forcing people to take the course because the Department of Public Safety still had not come out with any rules & regulations yet. So we finally had a law on the books mandating drivers training, and now we even had a school, but we still weren’t getting anywhere and very few students were actually being trained.

Recently the Governor appointed former congressman and former police officer Clyde Norita as the new Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Clyde came in for the morning talk show, Island Issues, just a day or two after being appointed. I asked him what he planned on doing about the drivers training law that had never been implemented. He assured me that he would be looking into it immediately and would be meeting with the gentleman who had started the Driver’s Training school to see if everything was ready. Clyde honored that promise and started digging into it immediately. The result is that we now have rules and regulations promulgated for the drivers training program, and it is set to take effect on June 2, 2008. From that point forward all first time drivers license applicants will have to take a certified drivers training course and log in a certain number of hours driving with a parent or guardian in the vehicle. Also anyone coming from any country other than the U.S. or Canada will also have to take the drivers training course. If someone applies for a license before June 2, 2008, they will not have to take the course, but if they are applying for their first CNMI driver’s license after that date, they will be required to take the course before getting their license.

So finally, after years and years of talking about the need for a driver’s training program, it is about to become a reality. I’m hoping that this will greatly improve the safety on our roads, and that it will cut down on some of the needless traffic related deaths we have witnessed in the last couple decades. I realize there are those who will not like this law and grumble because the government is forcing them to spend more money in order to get a driver’s license for their children. But if you talk to any parent who has lost a child in a traffic accident out here, I’m sure they would tell you it would be money well spent if it makes them better and more defensive drivers. Drivers who have gotten a certain number of driving citations will also be required to take this course in order to keep their license. So even though there are a lot of people who have slipped through the cracks and never had any drivers training or education, if the police department starts cracking down, they may be required to take the course after all.

I would like to thank and congratulate those who had a hand in making this a reality, Representative Heinz Hofschneider for drafting and sponsoring the bill in the first place, Representative Arnold Palacios for sponsoring it in the next legislature, Governor Fitial for signing the bill into law, and to DPS Commissioner Clyde Norita for taking control of the situation and promulgating rules and regulations so that it could finally be implemented. Yes, sometimes progress here can be painfully slow, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up and stop trying or that you should throw up your hands and quit after the first setback or obstacle.
For those wondering just what exactly this will mean and how it will work, DPS Commissioner Clyde Norita will be in my studio Tuesday morning at 7 am to talk about the law, the rules and regulations and about what you would have to do if you wanted to open another driver’s training school. This will also open up new business opportunities, job opportunities, and it will bring in additional revenues to the government through taxes and permit fees. So while there may be some students out there not happy about the prospect of having to take a driver’s training course now, I am thrilled that they will be equipped to be better and safer drivers now as a result. Of course we will still have accidents, but I’ve got to believe that it can only help to educate our students before letting them loose behind the wheel, and by having them log in so many hours driving under the watchful eye of a parent or guardian first.

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

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