State of drivers education still muddled

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Driver's Ed

Drivers' education is still in a fairly muddled state, with little national consensus on how to do it properly. Photo Credit: Wusel007/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA

Driver’s education classes had long been the standard for teens learning to drive, along with parental instruction. However, these classes have all but disappeared from schools and there is some debate over the effectiveness of a laissez-faire approach to driver’s education.

NHTSA among drivers education skeptics

It used to be, according to USA Today, that teen drivers’ education courses were taken in high school, as part of the curriculum. Doing so through a private driving instruction school used to be a rarity; in the 1970s, roughly 95 percent of teens were taught to drive through a school program. As of 2009, members of Led Zeppelin are more likely to appear in a retirement home than on the Top 40 charts and only 15 percent of teens currently take “driver’s ed” through their high school.

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One of the most constant criticisms of driver’s eduction since then, has been the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA, according to AOL, observed in studies as far back as 1976 that the effectiveness of driver’s education courses was barely observable, if at all.

Graduated licenses helping

There has been some success with graduated license programs. The trend began in the 1990s and all 50 states place some restrictions on novice drivers. There have been dividends to show for it as, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teen crashes have been shown to drop by up to 30 percent in states with graduated licensing program.

Oregon, according to the New York Times, requires the most training before a teen driver has a full license. The state requires either 100 hours of supervised driving instruction or 50 hours of supervised practice behind the wheel and completion of a state-certified driving instruction course. The state has recorded a 55 percent reduction in the number of 16-year-old drivers behind the wheel involved in a crash that injured or killed another driver. Similarly, the number of 17-year-olds driving in crashes that injured or killed another motorists dropped 40 percent.

Oregon has also noted 12 percent fewer crashes, 50 percent fewer suspended licenses and 20 percent fewer convictions for driving offenses among teens.

Little consensus

Aside from graduated licensing, there isn’t much consensus on how the various states should govern how drivers are educated. Unlike many other states, which barely regulate private instructors and schools, Oregon requires instructors complete state certification. Some states, according to USA Today, allow students to complete online courses.

The NHTSA recently issued some guidelines on drivers’ education instruction, but there is nothing binding for the time being. The IIHS notes that those states with the stricter standards usually enjoy the greater reductions in teen crashes and fatalities.


New York Times


USA Today


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