A Renaissance in Driver Education

The past few decades have brought some big changes to driver’s ed in the U.S. While the traditional “30/6” model (30 hours classroom instruction, 6 hours behind-the-wheel training) is still a high school staple for many teens across the country, the industry has been evolving in some interesting ways.

Fifteen states, for example, now allow teens to complete driver’s ed requirements online, and private providers have increasingly entered the marketplace and replaced public course offerings. In fact, only about half the states even require teens to take driver education at all, in part due to myriad research findings over the years that have failed to demonstrate that driver’s ed produces safer drivers.

Nonetheless, driver’s ed remains popular in the U.S. as a means of teaching teens the basics of vehicle handling, traffic laws, and safe driving. But with debate raging about its effectiveness, and state economic pressures forcing cuts to public program offerings, we believe that it is time for a renaissance in driver education.

As a starting point for promoting long-term reform in the industry, members of the traffic safety community – including the AAA Foundation – came together for a national forum in early 2009 and adopted the Novice Teen Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards. These guidelines encourage states to upgrade the scope, quality, and oversight of driver education in topic areas such as program administration, content standards, instructor qualifications, and other important aspects of driver training.

As these standards are implemented, Foundation research will continue to help inform future developments and reforms in this area. Later this year, for example, we’ll be releasing findings from our groundbreaking Large Scale Evaluation of Beginner Driver Education, the most comprehensive real-world evaluation of driver education completed since the mid-80s. And our recently-completed reports on online driver education and supplementary training for new drivers touch on some of today’s hot topics in this field.

The end of NYTSM does not mean the end of our efforts to keep teen drivers safe. In fact, now that we’re even closer to summer vacation, all of us need to remember that these carefree months can only be enjoyed if each and every day is safe.