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Many teens opposed to license limitation proposal

Jan. 28, 2008 @ 11:28 PM

CHARLESTON -- High school drivers aren't welcoming the prospect that the state, not their parents, could soon revoke their driving privileges if they get bad grades.

Although there's already a law on the books that suspends a teen's license if he or she drops out of school, new legislation proposed by Gov. Joe Manchin aims to deny or suspend students' driver's licenses if they fail to receive a 2.0 grade point average, or a C.

Manchin's proposal was introduced in both the House, HB 4023, and Senate, SB 205, on Jan. 10. The House bill has been assigned to the Education Committee. The Senate bill was referred to the education and judiciary committees. Neither bill has moved thus far.

Cabell Midland High School student Keaton Cutler, 17, said a student's driving ability, not academic performance, should determine whether he or she is allowed to drive. Just because a teen is a good student, he said, doesn't automatically translate into being a good driver.

"I'd be much more afraid to be on the road with a student who has good grades but is a bad driver rather than a student with bad grades but is a good driver," Cutler said. "I don't think it's fair. There's no correlation between good grades and good driving."

Cutler's father, Jon Cutler, said the government should not get involved with a student's driving privileges; that should be left up to the parent or guardian.

"It's a slippery slope. Where would they go next? Are they going to penalize kids if they don't clean up their room?" Jon Cutler said. "My child's behavior and academic performance is my responsibility, not the Legislature's. If kids get bad grades, parents need to get in charge of it, not the government."

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Manchin's proposal has merit. Anything the government can do to keep students in school, he said, should be explored. Plymale said the bill could be a very effective motivational factor.

Some students said the threat of losing their licenses would motivate them to work harder in school.

"(The bill) would definitely make me want to get better grades, but I'd work just as hard anyway," Cabell Midland senior Cody Keyser said.

Keyser, 17, said suspending a student's driver's license causes more harm than motivation to achieve better grades. If the student is involved in after-school activities and/or an after-school job, he said, he or she will have to rely on parents and friends for transportation. The extra burden, he said, would not benefit anyone.

As a member of the school's drumline, Keyser said he relies on his car to get around. Keyser also disagreed with the current policy that takes away a student's license for dropping out. Taking away a person's license strictly limits their ability to be a useful member of the workforce, he said.

"If someone drops out of school and has a job but the government still takes their license away, they are taking away the only way they can support themselves," Keyser said.

If the government is going to penalize students for bad grades, Cabell Midland student Johnna Bailey, 16, said, it should provide incentives for students with good grades.

Cabell Midland student-drivers must pay $40 a year for a parking pass. A lowered parking fee or preferential parking for good students should be implemented, she said. Keyser suggested the government provide gas cards for good students to help alleviate the financial drain of purchasing gas.

Plymale said his committee will address some of the issues that have come up through discussions.

One of the major issues, he said, is putting in a system that allows students to retain their driving privileges under certain circumstances. Some flexibility, he said, is needed to create good policy.

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