June 2012

What's your perspective on GDL? We get the straight story from J. Peter Kissinger, Joan Peterson and Kristine Thatcher.



Supporting a Renaissance in Driver Education

Over the past two decades, research has failed to demonstrate that traditional, basic driver education programs produce safer drivers. These findings, coupled with state economic pressures, have brought reductions in public driver education program offerings.

While some might be tempted to conclude from this that driver education is unimportant, we believe the opposite is true. What is needed, however, is a renaissance in driver education.

As a starting point for promoting long-term reform in the industry, we joined with our safety partners for a national forum in 2009 and adopted the Novice Teen Driver Education and Training Administrative Standards. These consensus-based guidelines encourage states to upgrade the scope, quality and oversight of driver education.

These standards were created under the tenet that driver education and training should be integrated with a state's graduated driver licensing (GDL) policies and that—just as GDL laws gradually expose novice drivers to increasingly complex circumstances as they gain more experience—driver education, too, should be a phased learning process.

To that end, one of the topic areas covered in the standards is "coordination with driver licensing." States are encouraged, for example, to establish formal communication systems between the agencies responsible for driver training and driver licensing, and to ensure that road tests reflect the standards-based driver education programs. The standards stress, however, that driver education courses cannot take the place of supervised driving practice hours.

We will be promoting these standards and the "lessons learned" from our ongoing research in collaboration with our partners. 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. Working together, we can make this a lifesaving renaissance.

Driver Education in Kansas

Driver education in Kansas is going strong. The state has 87 percent of the unified school districts offering the course; plus a consistently growing commercial field of schools. The GDL is accepted now and the schools are doing an excellent job of guiding parents and teens through the requirements. It is too early, however, to tell if there will be any hiccups in the final stages whereby teens can obtain a full license six months early at the age of sixteen and a half. The main criterion for the "early" full licensure is full compliance with the process by moving from one level to the next with an infraction-free driving record. In addition, teens must hold an instructional permit or farm permit for at least one year and have a parent or guardian sign an affidavit verifying the completion of 50 hours of practice driving.

Driver education courses offer a big advantage for beginning drivers in that a completion certificate from a state-approved course will allow the student to exchange that certificate for a license without further written or driving tests at the exam station. This incentive makes taking a driver education course very appealing. Driver education is not, however, mandated unless the teen wants to get a restricted license at the age of 15.

The GDL program has not altered driver education in Kansas. There was a fear that it might force some students out of the pool due to the one-year requirement for holding an instruction permit, however, that has yet to be the case. Since Kansas has and still does allow 14-year-olds to obtain the instruction permit, the concern was if the 14-year-old didn't get his/her permit until later in that year, the teen and/or parent might decide it would not be worth it to pay for driver education if the teen wasn't able to use the restricted license for very long. Example: If a teen gets the instruction permit at 14 and nine months and then must hold it for one year, then the student is not even eligible for a restricted license until age 15 and nine months. This would only leave three months that the teen could use the restricted license. At age 16 that teen would then move to lesser restrictions along with everyone else without a restricted license. This has not deterred Kansas teens from taking driver education. I think the reason it hasn't happened is because of the carrot at the end of the stick for teens with a driver education certificate of completion: no testing at the license bureau exam station. That all-or-none test scares teens. A course over time with their friends and a teacher they respect does not scare them.

An Update on Montana

NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland wrote, "Driver education is a key part of the comprehensive approach needed to reduce tragic young driver crashes and their toll on our economy." In Montana we believe that to increase young driver safety, traffic education programs must integrate driver education, graduated driver licensing and parent involvement.

Assisted by professional instruction through driver education and guided practice from parents/guardians, Montana's students start driving with less risk, more skill and greater potential for thousands of crash-free miles. Montana's teen driver education and training program provides this foundation for a systems approach to traffic safety through partnerships and cooperation with families and Montana's Department of Justice, Office of Public Instruction (OPI), and Department of Transportation (MDT).

The Cooperative Driver Testing Program (CDTP) is a joint program of Montana's Department of Justice, Motor Vehicle Division (MVD), and the OPI established in 1995. This program authorizes approved driver education instructors teaching an approved driver education curriculum to administer the written test for a learner's permit and to conduct the skills test on behalf of the MVD. MVD driver examiners retest 10 percent of the CDTP skills-tested students for quality and consistency. School districts providing approved traffic education programs are reimbursed with a portion of driver license fees. In 2011, the state paid 19.4 percent of the average per-pupil cost of traffic education and 67 percent of eligible teens participated.

Since 2006, Montana's Graduated Driver License (GDL) Law requires parents to provide their teens a minimum of six months and 50 hours of supervised practice driving with at least ten hours at night before they are eligible for a first-year restricted GDL with limits on passengers and night driving. Many teenagers may require even more practice with varied road, traffic, and weather conditions. Parent meetings are required in driver education to inform parents about teen driving risks and best practices. Parents are encouraged to set limits and drive with their teens even after teens have a first-year restricted GDL.

Montana's driver examiners noted improved driving skills after GDLs were implemented. New drivers coming in to complete their licensing process are much more confident and skilled with both driving knowledge and vehicle control. Prior to implementing GDLs, the road test failure rate for new drivers was 25 percent; the current rate is less than 10 percent. The MVD and OPI worked with partners to develop a new driver brochure on The Parent Role in Teen Driving to help parents/guardians with supervising their teen drivers and logging practice hours. The Montana KEYS Parent and Teen Homework was developed based on research with a team of Montana teachers and funding from the MDT to include resources, activities, skill assessments and a parent/teen driving agreement form.

Montana has experienced a significant decrease in crashes for our youngest drivers since GDLs were implemented in 2006:

  • In 2001, 1,350 16-year-old drivers were involved in a fatal or injury crash
  • In 2006, 1,205 16-year-old drivers were involved in a fatal or injury crash
  • In 2010, only 773 16-year-old drivers were involved in a fatal or injury crash

Montana's data and professional observations are conclusive: Experience, education, and parent involvement are paramount in achieving safe teen driving.