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. mike says:

    An addendum: indeed, those taking a driver’s ed course may get their license a minimum of 3 months earlier than those who don’t. (I just checked.) And those who take driver’s ed most likely do it to get the license earlier. So there are more opportunities available for the driver’s ed graduate to have an accident by age 18 than for the non-driver’s ed graduate. Plus there may be systematic differences between those who take driver’s ed in terms of attitude, risk aversion, etc.

    The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the folks who produced the study, have no known research capacity.

    Bottom line: there is an excellent chance that the study is pure garbage. If insurance companies stop giving a discount for graduates of recognized driver’s ed programs, then I would be more inclined to believe the results.

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  2. BSK says:

    I am also skeptical of the “reported accident” statistic. Could rural teens (or their parents) be more likely to settle-up with neighbors privately after a crash? In a larger city where you don’t know everyone including your neighbors, getting the police involved could be far more common.

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  3. Josh says:

    I know when I was 16 I got into 4 really minor accidents (I think the cars were moving under 10mph in all four), only one of them was reported (the rest were privately settled since the damages were all under $500). Since then I have not been in one.

    I did take drivers ed, but the reason for the accidents was just general irresponsibility and immaturity, nothing to do with drivers ed (which was admittedly worthless).

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  4. Thomas Paine says:

    My daughter took the after school drivers class in South Florida, and afterwards I found out our auto insurance company did not recognize the class for a discount. The insurance company required watching a DVD they supplied and signing a pledge. I also thought the school driving class was a waste after watching them drive a course in a parking lot at 3 mph and never going out on the open road.

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  5. Justin says:

    I work as an actuary for a mid sized P&C company and recently did an analysis of drivers training courses and how it affects accident frequency and severity. Using a GLM that pulls out other rating characteristics of the driver (such as age, miles driven, usage, etc.), a drivers training course has no effect on claim costs, positive or negative.

    @LF File: A couple reasons insurance companies give a discount that is not justified: Required by the state, pressure from agents (agents love being able to offer discounts), and retention (if you can undercharge a customer to get them to buy your insurance, you may be able to overcharge for them later and earn more profit. Some companies are notorious for this)

    @ Gary: As far as I know, neither drivers ed or drivers training help with claim costs. States have different requirements for their DE/DT, and none seem to be helpful in reducing accident frequency/severity.

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  6. MartinZ says:

    The stats imply that drivers education actually makes you a worse driver than those without.

    My gut feeling is that drivers ed teaches a ‘by the book’ application of skills, that are for the most part inappropriate for the reality of most situations. Reinforcing the inappropriate skills makes you less likely to ‘bide bye’ the actual customs of the road and adopt the variances of the ‘by the book’ methodology that is utilized in reality.

    I think you’re further off having a complete stranger that commutes everyday and drives on long trips show you the ropes.

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  7. AaronS says:

    This article caused me to think back on my own Driver’s Ed training. It was taught by one of the coaches–apparently as a way to keep him fully employed during non-P.E. hours.

    But what occurred to me was that I ALREADY KNEW HOW TO DRIVE. I mean, I didn’t just get in the car and know nothing.

    However, to this day, two things have stuck with me:

    1) The graphic videos of the results of drinking or reckless driving; and

    2) On my real drive through the city with my teacher, he had to hit the brakes for me because while car traffic was clear, I had not seen the pedestrian who was almost in front of the car. I have tried to carefully remember that since that day 30 years ago.

    I’ve never been in a bad accident, and even the minor one or two wasn’t my fault. I have received two or three speeding tickets in the ensuring years, but not for doing 70 mph in a 25 mph zone…but more akin to doing 65 mph in a 55 mph zone. Not the best, I know, but still, better than it could have been.

    The point, however, is that my dad was teaching me to drive long before Driver’s Ed was. The course was worthwhile in what it added to my driving ability, but if I had not had my dad’s guiding hand, the course would have been largely worthless in terms of actually knowing how to drive.

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  8. Johnny says:

    As has been said, I don’t buy any minor age difference as a factor. Also there should be a lot more information in the statistics, and how the state rules work (I am only familiar with VA).

    Definitely something else going on; my vote is home training. My parents had been teaching me carefully for almost a year, the school course of 5 driving days was very boring. My friend was my partner, however, and he had never been behind the wheel and it was terrifying. He passed, and was slightly less terrifying at the end of the week. One would assume his parents were entirely hands off, thinking the driving course would take care of everything…

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