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Driver Ed As Part of GDL

As states consider Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) legislation, they should think about improving driver education (DE) policy as well. As states bring their DE into closer alignment with NHTSA's Standards, you’ll want to help them avoid unintended consequences as details of a GDL and/or DE bill are debated and negotiated. Here are some points to share based on emerging research:

  • Ensure formal driver education for all teens. According to a CHOP study, in states where formal driver education (DE) is required to obtain licensure, 75 percent of high school students reported receiving DE, versus 46 percent participation for students in states that do not mandate it. DE participation was lowest for Hispanic teens (71 percent). Male students, black students, and those with poor grades or from low socioeconomic backgrounds also reported notably low DE participation. More than half o these students also received no formal behind-the-wheel training before obtaining their license. Formal DE traditionally includes 30 hours of classroom and six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction from a certified driving instructor. To close the gap in DE participation, consider your state GDL policy as a mechanism to ensure that as many teens as possible participate in driver education and training. Consider using the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Novice Teen Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards, which were recently developed by a panel of experts in traffic safety, education, and policy, as a starting point or framework for your state’s novice teen driver education and training program.
  • Issue no rewards. Teens completing a DE course should NOT be rewarded with early licensure or “time discounts” (which usually reduces the amount of required adult-supervised practice driving hours). One study showed higher crash rates among teens receiving “time discounts.” Conversely, when Louisiana provided 15-year-olds with an economic incentive to delay licensure until age 16 by increasing the cost and intensity of DE, the state saw a one-third reduction in the number of licensed 15-year-olds and a 20 percent reduction in crash rates. Age and behind-the-wheel experience are both independently associated with teen driver crash risk. 
  • Understand  parents' crucial role. Teens who say their parents set rules and are highly supportive (known as “Authoritative”), are half as likely to crash and less likely to drive intoxicated, speed, or use a cell phone while driving. They also are more likely to buckle up than teens with less involved parents.
  • Support greater parent involvement in the learning to drive process. Public policy needs to go beyond merely requiring 50 hours of parent supervised driving. According to a recent naturalistic study,  parents know their teens need lots of practice during the learner phase but cannot articulate specifics. Parents typically cover vehicle handling and maneuvering skills under benign conditions (i.e., little to no traffic, nice weather) but do not teach skills such as scanning for hazards or regulating speed for driving conditions. CHOP research shows these skill deficits lead to a significant portion of driver error-related teen crashes. Parents also need to have their teens practice in a variety of settings, including with commuter traffic, on rural and urban roads, and in inclement weather. Share this information with policymakers to advocate for greater parent involvement in the learning to drive process. 
  • Support driver education/training policies that bolster the role of driver ed instructors (DEIs). In this expanded role, DEIs could continue to teach teens driving skills, as well as supervise parents in practicing those skills and promote the deliberate interaction between DEIs, parents, and teens to ensure new skills are assessed at each stage and mastered before the teens advance toward licensure.
  • Get parents involved from the start. Several states and jurisdictions within states now require parents to attend a learning event before their teens can receive a learner’s permit or initial driver license. For example, in Connecticut parents must attend a two-hour course covering risk factors in teen driving, the learning-to-drive process, and Connecticut GDL law, as well as parents’ role in driving supervision, the licensing process, and supporting GDL law. The program is delivered through driver ed schools across the state. Evaluation of the program showed parents could later recall the topics they learned and that a significant majority felt the training was helpful, should be required, and would prevent crashes. Minnesota, Oregon, Massachusetts, and certain jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and New Jersey have similar parent orientation programs.
  • Consider broadening the Driver Ed Curriculum. Based on parents' perceptions of problems facing their teens, it could be expanded to address the social and emotional skills associated with driving, such as being patient, managing passengers, and communicating with other drivers.


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