Is Driver Training in the U.S. Good Enough?

I’m a little disappointed with myself because of the first thought I had as I woke up on this first morning of twenty-ten. I might have hoped for something I couldn’t put into print here, but I guess my thinking does indeed prove that I’m a car freak.

And a weird one, at that.

I woke up this morning thinking about the requirements to get a drivers’ license in the U.S. Boring, right?

I guess that was spurred by two recent comments on this blog, one from Dalton, a 14-year-old who doesn’t want the driving age increased to 18 (I think it’s a good idea) and one from zerrath, who wondered why the U.S. doesn’t have stricter licensing requirements.

Most European countries require new drivers to be 18 before they can get a license. If the U.S. is going to keep its 16-year-old requirement, I think tougher driving classes and stricter requirements are in order.

Rather than just skimming over the basics of making left turns and how to parallel park, why not teach teens how to actually drive a car? I’m not talking about a performance driving school, I just think we should take some extra time to teach them the basics of what cars can do (and how to react when their limits are accidentally exceeded).

Being a driver means being an extension of a car, and learning to handle it in all situations. Why not require student drivers to spend some time on the skid pad and learn to control a car in slippery conditions? Why not put student drivers in controlled adverse conditions so they can properly learn how to avoid accidents?

I think adding requirements like that would give teen drivers confidence and ultimately result in fewer accidents. Plus, what teen driver wouldn’t want to spend time on a track learning how to properly control a car and even attempting to drift around a high-speed corner?

Since the odds of increasing the driving age to 18 aren’t good, I’d compromise by adding some tougher driving requirements to the licensing process. And I’m pretty sure most teens would even look forward to learning how to actually become a good driver, as opposed to just learning how to move a car up and down the road.

Are the requirements to get a driver’s license in the U.S. strict enough? I say we actually teach our kids how to drive!



  1. This isn’t really an issue of teen driver training. Although teens account for a disproportionate number of crashes and traffic violations, the vast majority happen to adult drivers.

    Ironically, IIHS reports that driver training programs can actually increase teen accidents by encouraging early licensure. Connecticut eliminated driver training requirements and actually reduced teen accidents by reducing the number of teens licensed to drive. Graduated licensing programs, on the other hand, have produced real improvements in teen accident rates by allowing teens to get more experience while reducing risky behavior. Studies have also shown that advanced driver training programs for teens can actually increase the accident rate by creating overconfidence and risky behavior.

    To me, the real problem is the adult population. A high proportion of drivers don’t seem to know even the basic rules of the road. Unless a driver presents a serious problem, there is no requirement for refresher training or skill improvement in the adult population. Few drivers have even a fundamental understanding of the physical forces that govern how their vehicles perform and have little skill in dealing with common emergency situations. We use the police to try to identify problem drivers through traffic violations, when most crashes are not caused by such drivers– They are caused by lack of skill and acceptance of risky behavior among non-problem drivers.

    Additionally, as drivers age, there are additional risks involved with reduced physical mobility, reaction time and acuity of the senses. Also, older drivers often rate their driving ability much higher than it actually is. I don’t know of any states that require regular evaluation of senior driving skills to retain their driving privilege. A good example is my own father-in-law, who can not leave his home without assistance, and yet is allowed to pilot a three-ton truck around town that is never under more than marginal control.

    While it would be costly to require drivers to get adequate training AND be able to demonstrate it at regular intervals, such cost is minimal compared to the estimated $165,000,000,000 cost of highway crashes every year in the United States. Yes, that’s 165 billion dollars. We’re all paying for it with high insurance rates, taxes, and car prices.

  2. The obvious and easy answer is obviously no. Kids should spend much more time learning everything they can about “driving”. Trouble is who is going to pay for the Bondurant school? The student, the parent, the school, the county, the State or the Federal Government? None of the suggestions above are free and they are certainly not cheap. As a former educator I can attest to structural problems in getting kids enough time behind the wheel.

    There’s a myriad of problems in getting kids enough time behind the wheel. Time constraints within the school day are the most obvious. Unless you are in “block” scheduling, you will have a problem. Another is getting enough cars from local dealers to deal with the number of kids. Most schools in my rural area get their cars “on loan” from local auto dealers and when they “go away”, you are in trouble.

    Another deals with the sheer number of students. In my area when I was growing up, you took driver ed during your junior and senior years. Now with the overflow number of students, you have a limit on the number of times the course can be offered. Our driver ed department expanded to 3 teachers, one to do the “book learning” and two to drive the students. So to do what was suggested above would require additional expenditures of adding staff @$40-$50K per staff member. Most school districts just can’t and won’t do that. Our county bought one of those driving simulators and then quit using it when the kids couldn’t get scheduled to do real, actual driving.

    Another big problem is “fudging” records of actual time behind the wheel.
    Our state mandates written records of actual time behind the wheel. With the above mentioned time constraints teachers “cheat” on their reporting.
    If your kid is in a car with 2 other students during your designated hour of driving time, all three kids get those hours. Clearly wrong and clearly unethical, but it is done all the time.

    The clearly most effective method to teach driving is what has been suggested above. I believe I would take Bob’s course if it were offered in my area, but it isn’t and it ain’t cheap. To ask for kids to be offered that is a great idea, but where would the class be held? How would it be paid for? How much interruption to the school day would that entail?. Could Bob accommodate all the millions of students we have? I think you see where I’m going with this. So what’s the next best alternative?

    Same as its been for the last 90 years. Mom and dad. Unless you have affluent parents, this is the most cost effective way to do it. Now you run into the same problems as school. Where do parents find the time? Where can you simulate a snow storm or ice? Where do you find a congested city with lots of traffic tieups and traffic snarls when you live in the country? What is the “price” paid by the parents for their time and effort” What if the parents are ineffective teachers?

    Perhaps the ideal way to make kids more effective drivers is what is suggested directly above. Perhaps a community or civic effort of citizens volunteering their time and energy and sharing their knowledge would be a very beneficial goal. Perhaps getting a city council to dedicate some community block grants to help develop a “driving course” for the community would help in this as well. A 16, 17 or 18 year old kid would benefit tremendously from the common sense knowledge that all us more experienced drivers could share with them. This knowledge could expand geometrically to simple tasks as showing kids how to change a tire, perform an oil change, set off a warning flare, etc. Lots to think about.

  3. One of the high performance schools has a program for highschool students. A half day at Bondurant or somewhere similar would be much better than a semester full of 1960’s era drivers ed classes.

    The BMW CCA is already working with Tire Rack it seems:

    Think I’ll mention this at the next car club meeting I attend. I’m certainly not against some of my membership fees going towards helping kids get more familiar with cars. Who knows, we may even inspire some of em to become gearheads.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree. I just turned 18 and although I’m glad the driving age wasn’t risen (obvious reasons!) I remember when I was 15 and 16 learning to drive – in a giant van with poor tires in the dead of winter, mind you – I wanted to take a class or two on how to handle emergencies. I haven’t yet and I’d like to consider myself a careful driver but that doesn’t always do it and I’m not sure what would happen if something went very wrong. Putting young drivers on the road and actually involving them in ‘simulated’ road hazards is doable and will have a bigger effect on them as opposed to a video or two that basically says “don’t drink and drive, watch your surroundings and be careful, kids.” I’m all for it.

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