Does Driver's Ed. Lead to More Car Crashes?

The conclusion couldn’t be any starker:

Indiana lawmakers say the state’s driver education program isn’t working, citing a fractured system administered by three separate agencies and statistics that put the program’s usefulness in doubt.

Yes, it’s a bit of a political issue …

Public affairs director Sarah Meyer of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles told a group of state lawmakers last week that a study of current drivers under 18 showed those who took driver’s education had nearly four times the crashes that those who didn’t take the classes had.

But hey, there are statistics to back it up:

Nearly 5 percent of the 51,000 teens who took driver’s education had one or more reported accidents, compared with 1 percent of the 71,932 drivers without formal driver training.

Is driver’s ed. a menace to society? At least one politician asked the obvious question:

“Why do we even offer driver’s education?” asked Rep. Phil Hinkle, R-Indianapolis, after hearing the statistics.

Indeed, lots of government-run programs don’t produce the intended result. And the safety value of driver’s education has been challenged before. But is it really possible that sitting in a driver’s-ed. class makes you four times more dangerous?

Maybe the courses give young drivers false confidence that makes them more dangerous? Or maybe the instruction is really bad?

Or maybe there’s a selection bias at work here, whereby the drivers who take driver’s ed. (whether by choice or not) have different characteristics than the drivers who don’t.

Or maybe, more believably (to me at least), the statistics above obscure one salient fact: drivers who take a driver’s ed. course are allowed to drive at a younger age than drivers who haven’t taken a course.

There might be a lot of reasons to critique a driver’s-ed. program, but one of them should not be that you are shocked – shocked! – that turning more young drivers loose on the roads may result in more accidents.

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  1. Think and thrive. Don't drink and drive. says:

    I think your penultimate paragraph has it right.

    My son has had his learning permit (driver must accompany him) for two years and will be a more mature person when he chooses to get tested, likely without the need for driver’s ed, although that will get us lower insurance rates.

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  2. Chris says:

    Agree, in addition to the possible explanations you posit, you first need to question the validity of the statistics themselves. Hopefully they are valid, but …

    Also, location is really important. Rural drivers have much lower accident frequency (because there’s less traffic). Do urban kids take drivers’ ed. more often?

    There are other factors effecting frequency as well. You need to control for these factors before you can draw conclusions.

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  3. GLK says:

    Driver’s Ed is a dumb class that teaches nothing of what truly needs to be known about piloting a two ton mass down the roadway. Better our children go to a Performance Driving School at a road course. At least there they’ll learn something about how their vehicle works, how the law of physics apply, and how human instinct works against them ala target fixation and such. Americans have been brainwashed to believe speed kills so we keep focusing on making cars and roads safer while simultaneously ignoring driver skill. A car as docile (read: wimpy) as a Toyota Prius suddenly turns into a death trap mainly because the driver has not the skill to deal with the slightest perceived malfunction. Our society puts way too much emphasis on technological externalities while blithely ignoring, or otherwise having no faith in, improving the human factor.

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  4. emw says:

    I have to agree with GLK’s assertion that the class teaches little of value. My daughter took the class recently. She was bored. When she told me what they did in class, there was little of real value. The focus seemed to be, “As long as your rear end is in the seat the required number of hours, you’re good to go.”

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  5. L. F. File says:

    Are the insurance companies really so dim as to give premium deductions for something that increases their exposure? What statistics are they basing their determinations on?

    And when they say “…51,000 teens who took driver’s education…” are they only including those that took classes before they had a license? Many of the “teens” may have taken classes after being required to due to a traffic infraction or accident.

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  6. E Olson says:

    Post #5 shares my suspicion. If a teenager’s only instruction is driver’s ed, and there is no involved parent the result could be a driver with minimum skills. How much road time does a student get when there are many other students to share that time behind the wheel?

    Makes me wonder about another question: why would insurance companies lower your rates for attenending drivers ed?

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  7. mike says:

    I think Indiana licenses drivers at a somewhat earlier age if they have taken a driver’s education, at least at one time I’m reasonably certain that this was the case. While I am certainly willing to accept the idea that driver’s ed is worse than useless, I do wonder if this might be a complicating factor.

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  8. Gary says:

    There is a great difference between driver education courses and driver training. It is well-understood that most people learn better by doing than by observing alone. Let’s see a proper study that counts accidents of various types among the 2 x 2 combination of course attendance and training classes.

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