MILWAUKEE - A new campaign to curb reckless driving is targeting the time before prospective drivers ever get behind the wheel.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson joined members of Common Ground on Tuesday to launch a campaign that would make driver education affordable and accessible to all high school students in the city – asking major insurance companies to help out.
Aaliyah Hunt, a senior at Pathways High School, knows where she's going: "Straight to college." She is taking college classes and working to pay bills and save up.
As driven as she is, Hunt is not able to pay for a permit class and often takes the bus to school and work.
"I am 17 years old, and I do not have my driver's license – but not for lack of trying," she said.
Hunt said it takes an hour and fifteen minutes to get to work. She also sometimes takes her sister, who has autism, to school.
"Which can make me up to two hours late to my own school for classes. I can’t tell you all the times I’m late," said Hunt. She estimates having a license would save her about five to six hours a week.
As a charter student, Hunt is not eligible for the Milwaukee Public Schools' "MPS Drive" program. The program offers free classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction for approximately 2,000 MPS high schools students each year, according to Milwaukee Recreation Senior Director Lynn Greb.
"However, the demand far exceeds the available seats," Greb said.
Milwaukee Recreation's goal is to expand the program to more than 5,000 – including students from choice and charter schools, like Hunt. However, that will take more funding. So, the mayor and leaders with Common Ground are asking insurance companies Progressive, State Farm and American Family to collectively cover $1.7 million per year.
"Having a driver’s license is about race equity and providing young people with the key tools to finding a job," said Brenda McMurty with Common Ground's strategy team.
Proponents of the idea, including the mayor, said it is another way to tackle reckless driving.
"It will also empower them as well as equip them with what it takes to be safe responsible drivers," Johnson said.
"Once, a reckless driver almost hit me with their car," said Hunt.
For students like Hunt, a universal affordable driver education course could help them get where they're trying to go.
"It would help me get to school on time, get to work on time and take care of my family," she said.
Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS)
MPS Drive includes a $35 permit fee, but the rest of training is covered. Johnson and Common Ground leaders are asking the three insurance companies to set up a meeting to discuss expanding the program.
FOX6 News reached out to all three companies, but did not immediately hear back from State Farm and Progressive. In a statement, American Family's community and social impact officer Jim Buchheim told FOX6:
"As a community member and mutual insurance company focused on our customers, preventing traffic fatalities and injuries is extremely important to us, as demonstrated by our Teen Safe Driver program and support of national organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In addition, we are in dialogue with a number of Milwaukee neighborhood organizations about providing support to address the issue of reckless driving on a local level.
"We’re certainly interested in learning more about Milwaukee’s Universal Driver Education Campaign. Ultimately, we want the same result, which is saving lives. We welcome the opportunity to discuss the program and other possible solutions."