A good hard look at traditional driver education does not indicate it to be effective as a traffic safety measure. Historically, the first high school driver education course was developed by Professor Amos Neyhart of Penn State University and offered at State College, PA high school in 1933. During the late 1930s Leslie Silvernale, later founder and professor of the Michigan State University Highway Traffic Safety Center, coordinated the Cleveland Public Schools driver education program. The course was offered in conjunction with physical education, with 30 hours of classroom and 6 hours driving.

The first National Conference on Driver Education was held in 1949 at Jackson's Mill, WV. Neyhart and Silvernale recognized the need for standards; Silvernale suggested "30’6." (Both stated later the worse thing they ever did: both advocated a two-course driver education program with considerable driving experience between the courses.)

The second National Conference was held in 1953 at Michigan State University (MSU) and "30’6" was set in " stone. "

Early research on the effectiveness of driver education was well intended but poorly designed. The American Automobile Association (AAA) reported that driver education graduates had 50% fewer accidents than non-driver education drivers. The National Commission for Safety Education (founder of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association) in the early 1950s reported similar results. Michigan, in a special legislative summer session, held in 1955, created a driver education law requiring "30 and 6" for all driver license under the age of 18. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reflecting widespread support for and belief in the safety benefits of driver education, included it as one of NHTSA’s original 16 standards.

A few years later researchers reported different results on the effectiveness of driver education as an accident counter-measure than the early poorly designed studies reported. At the University of Colorado, Conger found no difference in accident rates between driver education graduates and non-driver education drivers. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) Connecticut Study found driver education graduates had more accidents than non-driver education graduates. Professor David Klein of MSU found a direct correlation with MSU males' driving records and their fathers' records; however there was no correlation with formal driver education.

The NHTSA Safe Performance Curriculum (SFC) study conducted in the DeKalb County, GA schools, indicated no difference between SFC graduates and a group of high school aged drivers that received a 4-hour pre-licensing program. All studies do agree that driver education is successful in preparing beginning drivers for respective state licensing requirements. Over the years many efforts have been made to improve driver education. Developments in curriculum and textbook revisions have been created by some very qualified groups and individuals. Technology has been incorporated, i.e. simulation, ranges, computer and various integrative techniques. Advance driver education has included evasive techniques, skid control, etc. Teacher preparation has improved, from 2 academic credits up to a minor, M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in traffic safety education.

ADTSEA has developed an excellent credentialling program for driver education instructors. However, results in reducing accidents, injuries and fatalities have not seen an appreciable improvement. Rather than criticizing the research we should look at what may be "wrong" with driver education and not the research.

In too many states, including Michigan, driver education is still primarily limited to preparing for the driving test. As presently offered, it does not allow for emotional maturity, a factor we know is a problem with teen-age drivers. Most programs do not allow for sufficient real-world driving experiences over a sufficient period of time. Dr. Jack Weaver, former director of the SPC program in GA has stated the SPC, a great program, was still like "trying to put a gallon of milk into a quart jar..." SPC was giving too much in too short of time, not allowing for experience and maturity.

The late Senator Patrick Monayhan, while the first U.S. Secretary of Education stated "...driver education is important; it's ineffectiveness as an accident preventive measure in the manner in which it is presented..." The problem with driver education basically is one of FORMAT, not of content or methodology. Amos Neyhart maintained driver education should be two separate courses. Les Silvernale suggested driver education should be taught only to those who already " know how to drive ." improving the norms of all drivers. See the author’s recommendations at the National Transportation Safety Board Web site listed in the closing paragraph above, and comments by: Evans, L (2004) Traffic Safety, Chapters 13 and 16. http://scienceservingsociety.com , zaadz.com/quotes/authors/russell_w_davenport


Don L. Smith, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus Michigan State University and Past President of ADTSEA Adapted from a speech given to the Michigan Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association on May 7th, 2004.