The National Transportation Safety Board convened a 2-day public forum in October 2003 to survey the current state of novice driver education and training, including the extent to which it is used, its effectiveness and shortcomings, and what can be done to improve it. While driver education has been available since the 1930s and, intuitively, should improve driving safety, in fact little consensus exists on the benefits of driver education and training, what it should entail, and how it should be delivered. The 29 participants included the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), State government representatives, safety and consumer associations, groups offering driver education, and teachers, students, and researchers.

 

The forum highlighted several critical points:

1) Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.

2) What works and what does not work in developing safe drivers is not known. Measuring the effectiveness of driver education programs is difficult because of the myriad factors that contribute to teenage driver crashes.

3) Little conclusive research on what constitutes an effective driver education program is available. Many research projects are under way, nationally and internationally, that show varying degrees of success for individual components of driver education, but no program exists that integrates the best practices in driver education and training.

4) Although skill development alone does not necessarily equate to safe driving, most driver education programs do not take into account at all how teenagers in today’s environment learn and assimilate knowledge that leads to skill development.

5) State requirements for driver education vary greatly; for instance, no consensus exists on whether or how driver education should complement graduated driver licensing (GDL)*, which all States are already implementing to some extent.

6) Driver education programs have not been designed to integrate skill development, teenagers’ learning styles, and task sequencing, which would help ensure that young drivers have the knowledge and skills to drive safely when they receive a license with full driving privileges.

7) The 30 hours of classroom and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training that most students receive may not be adequate to teach teenagers how to be safe drivers and is not based on a thorough analysis of how teenagers learn or on a progression of task complexity.

 

While the Safety Board has issued recommendations on GDL for teenage drivers as recently as 2002 (see part 3), this report of proceedings is the first Safety Board document on driver education since 1971. The Safety Board considers the recommendations issued as a result of these proceedings a critical step in determining how driver education and behind-the-wheel training can complement each other to reduce novice driver crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Without action on these recommendations, the Nation will not know which driver training strategies work and, therefore, may continue to spend scarce funds on programs that produce few or no measurable gains.


*GDL is a 3-stage licensing system that provides novice drivers with driving experience under more controlled circumstances through restrictions such as curfews, supervised driving, violation-free driving, and passenger limits.

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