"I don't want to wait, because when June 10 rolls around next summer, I just want to get my license and be ready," he said. "I'm already working and already have a job, and I'm saving up money and I'm ready to get a car."
Thacker is one of nearly three dozen teenagers who have or will be student drivers in Bartow County Schools' summer driver's education course this month, while the district earlier this month offered five six-hour days of classroom instruction to interested teens -- 22 participated in the class, with seven taking solely that offering while the other 15 registered for the on-the-road portion as well. In all, 42 students are taking advantage of one or both types of driver training.
Mike Durham is one of the district's instructors, teaching both in the classroom and on the road. Thursday morning, he was instructing Thacker on several driving lessons, such as parallel parking, parking location and turning radiuses and speed. He said the range also allows students to practice driving techniques involved with three-point turns, railroad crossings and more.
"You've got a lot of things here on the driving range that they're going to need out in the real world when they eventually get out there by themselves," Durham said. "We get to work on those things ... we're usually here for maybe 20 to 30 minutes until we feel comfortable they're doing everything correctly, then we'll leave and go out on the road."
Once students are able to hit the road, Durham said the young drivers get to travel on several routes, from small roads to the interstate.
Students who pay to get behind-the-wheel training -- the costs involved with it and the classroom session cover instructors' pay -- get six hours of instruction, which Durham said allows their parents to earn a 10 percent savings on their insurance costs. The 30 hours of classroom learning is based Georgia's "Joshua's Law," which requires teens applying for a Class D driver's license to complete an approved driver's education course and 40 hours of supervised driving, with six of those hours driven at night. Sixteen-year-olds who do not complete an approved driver's education course must wait until they are 17 to be eligible for the license and must still complete the 40 hours of supervised driving with six of those hours at night.
"What we do during the summer is mostly concentrate on the behind-the-wheel driving," said John Barge, director of secondary curriculum for Bartow County Schools. "We still offer the curriculum part for kids who weren't able to get it into their schedule, but most of those students actually take driver's ed. during the school year, and most of our students in the summer are actually doing just the behind-the-wheel part."
The teen driving rules stem from a senate bill passed by the 2005 Georgia General Assembly. The bill was dubbed "Joshua's Law" after Joshua Brown -- the son of Alan and LuGina Brown -- who was killed in an automobile accident July 9, 2003.
The school system has offered summer driver's education for the last several years, but has also offered it during the school day since January 2009. The school-year offering came as a result of a $136,400 grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety to purchase driver training simulators and tables on which they were placed. The grant was funded through another component of Joshua's Law, which imposed a 5 percent penalty on all traffic fines to fund schools' driver's education programs.
Barge said the district offers the behind-the-wheel instruction during the summer since it cannot logistically offer such training during the school year.
"The schedule just doesn't allow that. It would be too time-consuming, you would need too many vehicles, because your class sizes are 20 to 30 kids depending on the class," Barge said. "Our class periods are 50 minutes long, and to get the [average of] 25 kids into a vehicle and driving during the school day is a pretty difficult thing to do."
Students who take the semester-long classroom portion, however, are able to train on the simulators, whereas summer classroom pupils do not.
"In the regular school year, we have [students] for about 65 to 70 hours, and we have simulators and some things we get to use in the classroom," Durham said. "Trying to get all that work done in 30 hours is very, very tough. We go over everything ... from the different road types they'll be driving on, mirror usage, interstate driving -- it encompasses everything they're going to be seeing out on the roadway."
Thacker, who took the driver's ed. class this spring, said that while the simulators were helpful, they cannot yet replace the real thing.
"It's alright, but it's too computerized -- there's no realistic factors into it," he said. "Yeah, you have to be able to learn how far you are from the stop sign and all that or if you've passed it, but it's not as good as real life."
Thacker added that the training he was getting Thursday morning likely will pay off when he hits the big 1-6 next year.
"The teachers actually know what kids need to learn," he said. "My parents wouldn't teach me how to parallel park in the middle of traffic. It's a lot easier with cones, and not as stressful."