Pre-Licensure Driver Education
Driver education has long been advocated and used to teach both driving skills and safe driving practices. Most commonly, this includes 30 hours of classroom instruction and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel practice, although requirements vary considerably across States (Thomas, Blomberg, Korbelak, et al., 2012). This training can include either commercial or high school driver education programs. See Smith (1994), Mayhew (2007), or Williams et al. (2009) for concise reviews of the history of driver education in the United States
The effectiveness of driver education has been examined in several research studies (Mayhew, 2007; Roberts & Kwan, 2001; Thomas, Blomberg, & Fisher, 2012; Vernick et al., 1999; Williams et al., 2009). See Beanland et al. (2013) for a review of the effectiveness of driver training programs.
Some of the evidence suggests that it is ineffective in the long term at reducing the risk of citations, crashes, injuries, or death. Many States offer incentives for taking driver education, such as reducing the required number of supervised driving hours, waiving portions of licensing tests, or lowering the minimum permit or unrestricted license age (Thomas, Blomberg & Fisher, 2012). However, research shows that driver education incentives that allow teens to accelerate the GDL process may actually increase crashes (Mayhew, 2007).
In contrast, some studies have found a decrease in crash risk associated with driver education. A recent evaluation of Oregon’s driver education program showed a small decrease in the risk of collisions and convictions for teens who had participated in the driver education program (Mayhew et al., 2017). Similarly, Shell et al. (2015) compared teens who completed driver education with those who completed a supervised driving log and found the driver education group had significantly fewer crashes, injury or fatal crashes, violations, and alcohol-related violation. In both studies, selection bias is a concern because the teens who took driver education self-selected taking the course, and thus may be different in some personality traits, compared to teens who chose not to take driver education.
Overall, it may be unreasonable to expect pre-licensure driver education to produce sizable reductions in crashes, given the content and focus. According to Compton and Ellison-Potter (2008, p.6), knowing the “rules of the road” and safe driving practices are only one part of driving safely; teens also crash due to risk-taking and inexperience. Therefore, it is “…unlikely that an educational program alone, no matter how well designed and implemented, would result in dramatic reductions in teen crash rates.” Also, given the effects of driver education on crashes is likely to be small it is not surprising that most previous evaluations have failed to detect any effect. For example, Peck (2011) estimated that a study would need 35,000 participants to reliably detect a 10% reduction in crashes. It is also difficult to design a rigorous evaluation of driver education. In a State that requires driver education, random assignment of teens to a driver education program is not possible, as all students would take the same course. If a State does not require driver education, selection bias is an issue.
While some of the research shows that under some conditions the benefits of pre-licensure driver education might be inconclusive, NHTSA has identified potential safety benefits and through support from the driver education community and the Association of National Stakeholders in Traffic Safety Education (ANSTSE), developed the Novice Teen Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards (NTDETAS) to enhance driver education delivery in the States. In addition to an overall revision of the 2009 NTDETAS, the new version includes updates to the instructor training and instruction delivery standards (NHTSA, 2017). NHTSA offers a State Assessment Program to assist States in meeting the standards. At the request of a State, NHTSA will send a team of peers with expertise in different areas of the NTDETAS to review current State practices and make recommendations for improving the program.