The primary purpose of driver education is to give beginning drivers an adequate foundation for becoming competent and responsible users for the Highway Transportation System (HTS). Such a foundation of the required knowledge and skills should be designed to help new drivers continue to improve with experience.

Based on the non-fatal collision reports of the last twenty years, there has been little if any progress in the preparation of teenage drivers. The potential of driver education has never been fully realized because of inadequate time standards, teacher training programs, administrative policies, and program financing.


Adequate Program Standards

The minimum time standards of thirty hours classroom and six hours BTW instruction were set in 1949 at a national conference held in West Virginia. The leaders present also recommended that students receive two hours of supervised practice in the family automobile for each hour' of BTW instruction in the school training automobile. During the late fifties, research was conducted for the development of time standards for those laboratory programs that included simulators and/or multiple-car ranges. It is unfortunate that the criterion used was the ability of the students to pass the state road tests. So, these very old standards were inadequate when established, and they are certainly inadequate now.

Research projects now need to be conducted that will determine adequate minimum time standards for all types of courses. Such projects should measure how much time students need to achieve those objectives that have been derived from driver task analysis studies. The amount of properly structured back seat observation time needs to be included.

This is because students do not need to be BTW to practice perceptual skills and the analysis of situations for indicating the proper responses. Until research is completed, should be forty hours of classroom instruction, nine hours of BTW instruction, and twenty hours of back-seat observation. For programs with simulators or multiple-car ranges, a minimum of five hours of instruction should be BTW on street. The minimum time standards time.


Teacher Preparation and Inservice

Training Over the years, most driver education teacher preparation programs consisted of only one or two courses. Many of these were of the two or three week workshop type offered only during the summer months. When courses were offered as part of a college department, the instructors usually had little preparation or experience in the traffic safety field. Financial support provided was in the form of scholarships to the students rather than for university staff or instructional materials. There were few texts except those used for the high school courses.

To have better prepared teachers, there is a need to establish comprehensive traffic safety programs in a number of universities across the country. A broad based program should be developed and maintained for teachers, loss prevention specialists, supervisors, staff members for motor vehicle departments, and drivers of various vehicle types. Workshops and non-credit courses need to be available. Graduate programs should be conducted along with research in cooperation with state agencies. Funds from private as well as public sources should be solicited to help support these programs. There is a need for the outside support of one full-time faculty position and a few research projects. Some of the funds that are being spent currently on projects with little payoff could be redirected to such universities.

The most effective programs of instruction need to be organized and scheduled in accordance with the accepted principles of learning rather than administrative expediency. The length of practice periods and the span of time over which the course is scheduled are important factors to consider. Studies show that shorter and more frequent lessons provided over an adequate period of time are more effective than a few lengthy lessons given over a shorter span of time. It is known too that properly spaced recalls are best for the acquisition and retention of information.

Lengthy laboratory practice periods often use up much nervous energy which can be very exhausting for beginners. Both the classroom and laboratory instruction must be conducted for a minimum of eight weeks during the regular school year. This includes courses taught before and after regular school hours and on Saturdays. During the summer months, the minimum span of time may be only four weeks. The length of class periods should be comparable with other subject areas. In no case may the instruction period be greater than ninety minutes. The time for each individual practices BTW may not exceed thirty minutes per lesson.


A Relevant and Measurable Curriculum

In 1957, Leon Brody of the NYU Safety Center published a report on the "Teaching of Perceptual Skills. II Two years later, Fletcher Platt of the Ford Motor Company published the OPERATIONAL ANALYSIS OF TRAFFIC SAFETY. This included a theoretical model of driving. From then on, most of the traffic safety research and program developments were based on a study of driving rather than on an analysis of traffic accidents for their causes.

During the sixties, a more important study for driver education was conducted by C.E. Schlesinger and M.A. Safren. They developed a comprehensive driving task model which specified the major driver tasks, the critical skills to perform these tasks, and some objective ways of measuring these skills. Their research became the basis for the so-called IPDE process.

During the eighties, many states upgraded their state curriculum guides based on the two decades of driver task analysis studies. So, there are now curriculum guides that will provide for more effective driver education programs.


Parent Involvement in Driver Education

Driver education must be considered a shared responsibility of the school, home, and community. Reaching out to parents and the community will make the work of the schools easier and more effective. It will provide for a better understanding and support for driver education. Best of all, young people will receive improved learning opportunities and a variety of experiences.

Parents or relatives can help the most during the course by providing extensive practice in car control skills and the basic maneuvers. Then, they can help with the perception and proper responses to problem situations.

Teachers will need to provide parents with a laboratory handbook if such practice is to be effective. Parents can be asked to supervise such activities as making use of thecar owner's manual, making checks under the hood and around the car, and calculating the gas mileage. After the course, parents should be encouraged to help with night driving, parking, passing on two-lane highways, and sustained driving on rural highways.


Evaluation and Research

It is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of driver education when there is little if any objective data being collected at the local or state levels. The problem with state and national statistics is that there is no way to determine what program or combination of programs account for any increases or decreases in collisions. Was the change due to the improved engineering, enforcement, education, or emergency medical service programs?

At the local level, an ongoing evaluation plan should be conducted to measure student achievement of program objectives and program effectiveness for reducing collisions. Student achievement assessments should include a comprehensive on-road situations test that has been validated. The school program effectiveness is evaluated by surveying and assessing the driving records of all licensed senior students. Actually, the best source of information on driving experiences are the drivers.

A Driver Experience Survey form has been developed and utilized successfully in a number of high schools. The form contains questions related to training, licensing, suggestions for course improvement, and driving experiences as a licensed driver. It is best administered two or three weeks before the end of the school year. A sample questionnaire is available from the author.


Local Administration and Supervision

There is no doubt that good educational administration and supervision is of greater importance to the effectiveness of driver education than to most other courses in the secondary curriculum. This is because the nature and scope of a comprehensive driver and traffic safety education program requires a greater variety of administrative responsibilities and decisions.

Not only are all youth, including those in special education and out-of-school, to be assured of the opportunity to participate in the program, but they need to be enrolled in accordance with certain age requirements. There are so many variables involved, that unless purposely avoided, scheduling and organization of the total program might easily be based on expediency rather than carefully planned policies and sound educational principles. Other administrative responsibilities involve the selection of special equipment and facilities, financing, special records and reports, community support, and the establishment of working relationships with other local and state agencies who have traffic safety responsibilities. Certainly the responsibility to provide driver and trafficsafety education presents a challenge to the conscientious administrator.

The local school administrator should identify one qualified person on the staff to supervise and assist in the administration of the driver and traffic safety education program. Appropriate authority and time should be given to the person designated to enable him to act effectively on matters for which he is given responsibility. The person designated should be charged with the following duties:

1) Assisting in the formulation of general policies and practices for driver and traffic safety education based on legal responsibilities and conditioned by local student needs.

2) Program supervision and on legislative changes.

3) Selection and evaluation of instructional materials, teaching aids and equipment with long range and immediate goals.

4) Assist with scheduling and enrollment of students on the basis of guidelines provided by the state office.

5) Determination of annual budget and assist with cost accounting to assure that the per capita cost for reimbursement may be substantiated.

6) Evaluating the effectiveness of the instructional program in driver education on the basis of most recent research on the field.

7) Carrying on an effective public relations program to assure community support through understanding.


A more relevant and measurable driver education curriculum has been developed that was based on two decades of driver task analysis studies. What is needed now are improved program standards. Most driver education program standards are over forty years old, and they must be upgraded if teenage drivers are to have adequate preparation for such a hazardous task. A few model programs will need to be conducted so standards can be based on true research findings.

The teacher preparation staffs at two or more universities should be involved in conducting these model programs. Then, they can upgrade their programs to meet the needs of driver education beginning teachers.

Once adequate standards are determined, state and national leaders will need to promote the necessary changes in legislation. Included should be a requirement for schools to have a parent involvement program to be eligible for state approval. Objective data will need to be collected to convince state legislators to act.

Evaluation like curriculum improvements is an ongoing process. With a proper self-reporting survey form, any high school can easily determine the effectiveness of their driver education program in terms of crash rates. Such surveys should be conducted at least every five years. Once driver education programs can be shown to be cost effective, then support and adequate funding should not be a problem.


Automotive Safety Foundation. (1970) RESOURCE IN DRIVER AND Traffic Safety Education.

Brody, Leon. (1957) Teaching Perceptual Skills. for Safety Education.

NYU Center

Edwards, Ward. (1968) Information Processing, Decision-Making, and Highway Safety. Proceedings for the Second Annual Traffic Safety Symposium of the Automobile Insurance Industry.


Iowa Department of Education. (1975) PROGRAM RESEARCH IN DRIVER EDUCATION.



Quensel, W.P. (May, 1963) Teaching Visual Perception in Driver Education. ADEA News and Views. (April, 1976) How to Measure Program Effectiveness.

Journal of Traffic Safety Education. (July, 1979) An Evaluation Plan for Driver Education.

Journal of Traffic Safety Education. Schlesinger, L E. (March 1967) Objectives, Methods, and Criterion Tests in Driver Training. NSC Traffic Safety Research Review.

Seals, T.A. (1975) Steps Toward Driver Education Curriculum Improverment. Allstate Insurance Company.

Van Fleet, E.L. (January, 1981) The Illinois Demonstration Satellite Performance Curriculum--A Year Later. Journalof Traffic Safety Education.



Warren P. Quensel Assistant Professor Emeritus Illinois State University