Free driver’s ed program ramps up as city works to combat reckless drivers

MILWAUKEE — Fighting reckless driving in Milwaukee takes a comprehensive approach and part of that response includes a renewed focus on driver’s education.

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and Milwaukee Recreation are now ramping up their efforts to get more students into driver’s ed.

A north side mother says she sees people driving out of control too often.

“I would say on a weekly basis we witness reckless driving,” said Monique Meese.

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“It is absolutely terrifying,” said Monique Meese talking about her 16-year-old daughter driving on Milwaukee streets.

It is very worrisome to her because she has a brand new driver on the road, her 16-year-old daughter Alannah Meese. She admits it is hard to think about her daughter driving on city streets.

“It’s absolutely terrifying,” said Monique.

But easing Monique’s fears is the fact her daughter received driver’s education. Free school-based driver’s ed was phased out of MPS in the early 2000s. Milwaukee Recreation (MKE REC) brought it back five years ago with a free program called MPS Drive.

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Monique Meese (left) and her daughter Alannah Meese, 16, in the car. Alannah recently got her license through the Milwaukee Recreation program called MKE Drive.

“Our feeling is because of that gap right there between the two programs of in the schools to when we started, that’s the gap of the students that are driving now reckless because they don’t know the rules. They weren’t taught safely how to drive,” said Jodie Donabar, recreation supervisor of driver’s education program, Milwaukee Recreation.

Milwaukee’s City-County Carjacking and Reckless Driving Task Force agrees a lack of drivers ed contributed to the city’s reckless driving problem. In a June 2020 report, the task force recommended expanding drivers education in MPS. Even though MKE Rec brought back free driver’s ed in 2017, there’s only enough funding for about 2,500 students to participate, which is half of what’s needed. Every year, 5,000 to 6,000 MPS students are eligible to take the program, but many end up being waitlisted.

“We’re trying our best to get to everyone, but we have (a) waitlist for every class,” said Donabar.

Due to COVID relief funds and a grant, MKE REC will be able to nearly double the program with at least 4,500 spots available next school year. Monique says driver’s ed helped her daughter and she’s hoping it will help other teens across Milwaukee as well

“To have it in a class, where they have it chopped up with the online classes they can review and have people there that can help you if you have any questions, that was a lifesaver,” said Monique.

Milwaukee Recreation says the expanded funding for MKE Drive runs out in 2024. Without additional funding, they would have go back to waitlists for students who want to learn to drive.

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