STUTTGART, Germany - Twenty-one Stuttgart teens are a step closer to getting stateside driver's licenses.

The teens received their Department of Defense Dependent Schools driver education certificates March 25 after completing a driver education theory course. DoDDS and the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Child, Youth and School Services SKIES program partnered to provide the training.

The class not only helped students understand the fundamentals of driving through classroom instruction, but also with 10 hours of experience "behind the wheel" in a brand new driving simulator.

The simulator is very "life-like" according to the students, and not only simulates normal, safe driving conditions, but also driving while impaired and situations requiring split-second decisions, such as when a pedestrian suddenly steps out into the street.
Patch Junior Lauren Tannenbaum said that these simulators were very beneficial in getting a real feel for the road and all its dangerous situations.

The Stuttgart CYSS received the simulators as part of a $430,000 initiative funded by IMCOM-Europe.

"The issue of offering driver education courses has been going on for years," said Jemmie Collins, the Stuttgart CYSS education coordinator. "It was even an AFAP (Army Family Action Plan) issue at one point." The classes began in September in USAG Wiesbaden and USAG SHAPE, with seven other garrisons, including Stuttgart, following suit in January.

The class was taught by Trudy Mertens, a certified driver education instructor and BAfAPblingen Elementary School teacher. The class met twice a week. "We were realistic and understanding with what the kids had to do with school, and of course, their after-school activities, so we really appreciated the exceptional reception by the students," said Mertens.

The students were tested every week on German laws and road signs, as well as stateside laws and signs. All the students agreed that the course has helped them in understanding the rules and regulations of the road.

While the class does not result in a student receiving a driver's license, it does fulfill the 50-hour driver education requirement, and is recognized and accepted by most driving certification agencies in the U.S.

Unfortunately, due to standing regulations and the German SOFA agreement, students cannot get a license through the U.S. Army Europe.

Collins said she doubted if this would ever change. "The research has been done, and the only way a teen can get a license is to go through a German school and pay around $1,200, or go back to the States to take their driving test," said Collins. "This is as far as we can take them."

Mertens tried to make the class a family affair. "There was a lot of parent involvement," she said. Mertens went on to say she sent assignments home with the students that required their parents' help to encourage the parents to get involved and help their student in the learning experience.