Stephanie Vega is an aspiring driver who admits she has a lot to learn before she gets behind the wheel. But one thing is certain, the 18-year-old from Minnetonka said: She want to be a good driver.

"I don't want to be a clueless driver who gets cussed out," she said. "I've seen bad drivers. I don't want to be one of those."

Vega is learning the rules of the road courtesy of the Crystal Police Department, which teamed with Robbinsdale Area Schools to offer a free six-week, multicultural driver's education class for adults who are learning English.

The class, one of two in the state, is a pilot covered by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety, with funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The South Central Minnesota Emergency Medical Services also received the grant.

In Minnesota, anybody 18 or older does not have to take a driver's education course or log 50 hours of supervised driving, a requirement for younger drivers. Adults just have to pass written and behind-the-wheel tests.

"They could just hop in and go," said Sgt. Justin Tourville, a 21-year veteran who teaches the class.

In a session last week, students got lessons on how to properly signal and change lanes, pass another vehicle, merge onto freeways and the love-it-or-hate-it zipper merge. They also learned how to keep a safe following distance and when it's legal to do maneuvers such as a U-turn.

A majority of the session was devoted to all those signs dotting our roads telling us how fast we can legally drive, when to stop or yield and warning of road construction or other hazards. Vega said she doesn't understand all the yellow diamond signs that designate curves, roundabouts and when lanes start and stop.

"The signs are confusing," she said. "The T- and Y- intersections, it's like, where do they go?"

Students are given a Minnesota driver's manual with colorful diagrams to help them learn driving vocabulary and how to interpret the meanings of lane markings. There are lessons on right of way laws, driving in inclement weather and what to do when encountering emergency vehicles. Videos cover an array of driving scenarios.

The goal of the pilot program is to reduce the number of crashes and traffic fatalities involving drivers who are not white or don't speak English as their first language.

"We want to have better educated drivers on the roads and safer streets in our community," Tourville said. "We hope to have better drivers."

Jamila Tennin of Crystal is taking the class because in the past she was scared to take a driver's education class. The PowerPoint presentations and explanations police officers give about laws have helped allay those fears, she said. "I'm a visual learner," she said.

Asked if she is looking forward to becoming a driver when she finishes the class, Tennin flashed a big smile. "Yes, I will be ready," she said.

Higher speeds on I-394

MnDOT told us last spring that it planned to raise the speed limit on I-394 between Minneapolis and Minnetonka from 55 mph to 60 mph, and it finally happened. Crews quietly put up the new speed limit signs July 13. The change resulted from a speed study suggesting the higher speed would still be safe, said spokesman David Aeikens.

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