Does Driver’s Education Work?

Fifteen-year-old Laura Yost died on September 23 from injuries she sustained after the teenage driver of the car she was riding in turned left in front of an oncoming dump truck. A few days later, fifteen-year-old Braden Rock died after his 17-year-old sister turned left in front of an oncoming car. The next morning, 11–year-old Michael Burgess was walking across the street to board his school bus when he was struck by a car driven by a 16-year-old and seriously injured. Many have questioned in the wake of these events how such injuries might be prevented in the future.

Some have raised concerns about the legislature’s decision last session to eliminate state funding for local driver’s education programs beginning with the 2015-16 fiscal year. Yet all of the teenager drivers involved in these accidents successfully completed driver’s education, and it obviously did not inoculate them from negligent driving. Perhaps more such accidents would occur if there were no formalized driver’s education training.  Unfortunately, despite the millions spent on driver’s education programs in North Carolina every year for decades, the simple truth is that we have no idea whether driver’s education has any effect on teen driving safety.

There is no data.  The General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division (PED) submitted a lengthy report to the legislature last March recommending that it strengthen the accountability of the statewide driver education program by requiring statewide performance measures to assess its effectiveness and efficiency. The report contains a blistering review of the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) oversight and management of driver’s education. The report concluded that DPI did not collect sufficient and reliable data to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of driver education, did not have a uniform method to deliver driver education statewide, and did not monitor local instructors. Among the findings reported were that 46% of students attempting the DMV license test from 2007 through 2013 failed the test—including students making multiple attempts.  All of these students had successfully completed driver’s education.

What does work? While North Carolina’s accident and fatality rates for teen drivers remains high, teen traffic injury and fatality rates in North Carolina and nationwide have declined substantially over the past decade. That decline is attributed in large measure to graduated driver’s licensing, of which novice driver education is a part. However, research suggests that components of graduated licensing other than formalized driver education have accounted for the reduction. Namely, reduced accident rates have been associated with delaying unsupervised teen driving, increasing hours of mature adult supervised behind-the-wheel experience, limiting nighttime driving, and limiting novice teen drivers to no more than one teen passenger.

The Center for the Study of Young Drivers, part of the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, says that most novice drivers don’t have enough practical experience when they are first licensed.  Indeed, the Center characterizes the limited experience teens gain in standard driver education programs as “not even enough for novice drivers to become minimally competent, much less proficient.” The Center states that additional research is needed to determine how much driving experience is enough, noting that one study found a decrease in crash rates among teens who amassed about 118 hours of supervised driving practice before being licensed.

There’s an app for that. The Center has developed a smartphone application, Time to Drive, to support supervisors of teen drivers. The app records the amount of driving and conditions, and generates a log that drivers can provide to DMV, keeps track of “hard stops,” and encourages the parent and teen to meet driving goals.

Parents can supervise even when they aren’t in the car. The Center suggests that parents can also play an important role after their teen begins to drive unsupervised by, for example, negotiating a parent-teen driving agreement that clearly spells out the expectations and responsibilities of parents and teens and using devices, such as DriveCam, that allow vehicle information and driver behavior to be recorded and monitored.

The Time to Drive webpage has many other helpful hints for parents, including advice about what kind of vehicles are best for a novice driver.

The entire community is looking for a solution, and advice from the experts seems a good place to start.

9 thoughts on “Does Driver’s Education Work?”

  1. Nor does the D.A.R.E. Program prevent drug abuse/use in students. After 28 years of public education experience, I can say without hesitation that 100% of my middle and high school students caught using drugs (including alcohol) were D.A.R.E. graduates.

    The one thing I have found to be most effective is a proactive parent who personally participates in the child’s driving during the learning stages and continues to remind his/her child about the dangers of driving AND the dangers posed by other drivers. The second most helpful experience was participation in a quality defensive driving school by the student and parent.

    Cell phones, unfortunately, have become the bane of teenage driving. Parents must be aware of this and take any and all necessary steps to reduce the likelihood that the young driver is going to be using the cell phone while driving. This just takes constant monitoring by the parents.

  2. Is there a minimum number of supervised hours a teen must drive before being allowed to drive unsupervised? How many hours is it? Whatever it is might need to be lengthened.
    The driving test I had to take back in 1978 was ridiculously easy. If you could drive around the block, make a 3-point turn, and did not play the radio while driving, you passed. Are teenagers given legitimate driving tests these days or still given the same ones as back then? Maybe testing teenagers for legitimate driving skill would help things, tests such as successfully negotiating parking lot cones within a time frame or some such.

  3. They need to incorportate “STREETSAFE” into the program. It is a classroom and practical based application of distracted driving and other hands on, driving through cones, etc. that has, according to local participants (Young Drivers) been significant in bringing attention to distracted driving, irrespective of the distraction.

  4. Whether it is teen drivers or adults, let’s face it, there are some terribly DANGEROUS and irresponsible drivers out there. The Drivers Education Course differs drastically from the others, however, in that substandard performance can lead to disastrous results. Attention to detail applies only to those who WANT to adhere. Parents, guardians, teachers and the like must constantly emphasize the importance of being responsible drivers and reiterate that driving is not a right, it’s a privilege. If the parent feels that their teenager isn’t ready for that crucial responsibility, then don’t sign the paper allowing them to test. I’d rather my teenager ride the school bus, even as a H.S. senior, than to do what’s popular and allow him/her to operate a 3 to 6 ton moving piece of metal irresponsibly.

  5. I think I’ve seen studies that show that graduated driving programs decrease wrecks, injuries, and fatalities for 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds, they increase wrecks, injuries, and fatalities for 18- and 19-year-olds almost the same amount. It’s a wash.

  6. I am the father of Braden Rock.

    As for the incident of my son I do believe little could be done with this accident. The news doesn’t know much of the real story that I’ll leave here for though.

    1. The morning was very foggy
    2. This was at 655 am and it was also raining.

    Neither driver saw each other due to the environment. Add to the fact this intersection if we call it such in the middle of captial hwy is prone to accidents (41 in 5 yrs).

    These environment would be challenging to most experienced drivers.

    Above you said, “Yet all of the teenager drivers involved in these accidents successfully completed driver’s education, and it obviously did not inoculate them from negligent driving” yet you don’t address the real situation. All the training in the world can’t stop accidents from happening, hence the word accidents.


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