Background: New drivers, especially young ones, have extremely high crash rates. Formal instruction, which includes in-class education and in-vehicle training, has been used as a means to address this problem.
Objectives: To summarize the evidence on the safety value of such programs and suggest improvements in program delivery and content that may produce safety benefits.
Methods: The empirical evidence was reviewed and summarized to determine if formal instruction has been shown to produce reductions in collisions, and to identify ways it might achieve this objective.
Results: The international literature provides little support for the hypothesis that formal driver instruction is an effective safety measure. It is argued that such an outcome is not entirely unexpected given that traditional programs fail to address adequately the age and experience related factors that render young drivers at increased risk of collision.
Conclusions: Education/training programs might prove to be effective in reducing collisions if they are more empirically based, addressing critical age and experience related factors. At the same time, more research into the behaviors and crash experiences of novice drivers is needed to refine our understanding of the problem. These are the best driving schools madison.
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New drivers, especially young ones, have extremely high crash rates. For example, Williams1 reported that in 1995 in the United States, 16 year old drivers were involved in 35 crashes per million miles of travel, compared to drivers in their 20s and early 40s who were involved in nine and four crashes, respectively, per million miles. A major reason that young drivers are over represented in road crashes is because they are inexperienced, lacking the necessary driving skills and capabilities.2 This is not surprising because driving is a complex, self paced activity involving a myriad of basic tasks (for example, steering, braking) and higher order skills (for example, hazard perception, problem solving), many of which are essential to safe vehicle operation.2,3
A prevalent response to address the complexities inherent in driving has been to ensure that the needed skills and capabilities are provided before full licensing is permitted. This is usually done either less formally under supervision of a parent or other adult licensed driver, or formally under professional in-class and in-vehicle instruction, or both. There has always been considerable expectation for the value of formal education and training. Indeed, such programs are generally accepted as an efficient and effective means for learning to drive and for preparing to take the road test, which sets the minimum driving standards in a jurisdiction.
Teaching the skills needed to pass the road test, however, is not the only, or most important, stated objective of driver education and training programs. The principal goal of many, if not most, driver education and training programs is to produce “safer” drivers, defined in terms of collision involvement. Simply put, it is assumed that drivers exposed to formal instruction should have lower crash rates than those who do not receive such instruction, that is, those who learn to drive informally. Despite the belief in the safety value of driver education, programs have not proven effective. As counterintuitive as this may seem, empirical evidence supporting the safety benefits of formal driver education/training is lacking. Numerous studies have failed to show any positive effects and some even suggest that such programs pose a safety risk because they lead to earlier licensure.
Concern about the problem of young driver crashes, and a growing recognition of the failure of formal driver instruction to resolve it, has lead in three inter-related directions. First, new licensing approaches to reducing the crash risk of young novice drivers have been sought and, in North America, this has resulted in the development of a system called graduated driver licensing (see Williams and Ferguson, and McKnight and Peck in this supplement). Second, the recent adoption of graduated licensing has also resulted in heightened interest in improving the delivery and content of driver education and training programs. Third, these recent developments have also lead to interest in parent supervised practice as a means to increase overall practice and accelerate skill development (see Simons-Morton and Hartos in this supplement).
In this paper, we will review the empirical evidence on the safety effectiveness of driver education and training, consider the reasons why the research has not been able to identify consistent and long term safety benefits of such programs, and discuss improvements in driver education/training that may produce safety benefits.
EVIDENCE ON SAFETY EFFECTIVENESS
In 1996, the current authors produced a report that provided a contemporary review of the value of driver education/training, particularly in relation to new licensing systems, such as graduated ones.4 It reviewed 30 studies from several countries that examined the effectiveness of formal driver education/training, motorcycle rider education/training programs, and advanced training courses for novice drivers. That review of scientific evaluations provided little support for the claim that driver instruction is an effective countermeasure. The preponderance of evidence failed to show that formally trained students have a lower frequency of crashes than those who do not receive such training. Even more discouraging, a few studies even showed a safety disbenefit—that is, an increase, rather than a decrease, in crash involvement. In some cases, this occurred because driver education resulted inearlier licensure, and consequently, more crashes. On balance, the weight of the evidence did not favor the hypothesis that formal instruction provides safety benefits.
Since the publication of our report, there have been four major, independent, reviews of evaluation research on the safety benefits/disbenefits of driver education and training. These contemporary reviews reached the same conclusions as we did in our earlier report. For example, researchers at the John Hopkins School of Public Health recently reviewed nine studies that met their quality criteria5 and concluded that:
“There is no convincing evidence that high school driver education reduces motor vehicle crash involvement rates for young drivers, either at the individual or community level. In fact, by providing an opportunity for early licensure, there is evidence that these courses are associated with higher crash involvement for young drivers” (p. 40)
Two reviews on the effectiveness of driver education/training have also recently been published in Australia. Woolley,6 in a study for Transport South Australia, reviewed the international literature on the effectiveness of in-car training in high schools and concluded that:
“Very little new evidence has emerged to support driver education and training in high schools and the bulk of the scientific literature is damning of the ability of high school driver education and training to deliver net road safety benefits. Such education generally leads to increased licensure rates and younger driver ages, causing problems which far outweigh any benefits achieved” (p. ii)