About Driver Education

Choosing a driving school?


It has long been recognized that new drivers, particularly young ones, are at an increased risk of collision (Mayhew & Simpson, 1990, 1995). This is one reason that the majority of young drivers decide to take driver education/training before becoming fully licensed (Mayhew, Simpson, Singhal, & Desmond, 2006). The ultimate goal of driver education is to produce safe drivers who are less likely to be involved in collisions.

Driver education courses are usually offered through the school system, a commercial setting, or some combination of the two (e.g., classroom material presented in the secondary school; in-car training by a commercial driving school). Courses typically consist of 30 hours of in-class training, followed by 6 hours of supervised on-road driving practice, but the number of hours both in-class and on-road can vary depending on the course chosen.


Driver education is usually taken voluntarily, and can provide a structured, efficient means for inexperienced drivers to acquire knowledge on the basics of safe driving (e.g., steering, braking, rules of the road) and to prepare for passing the driver's test. Driver education also provides the new driver with the opportunity to practice driving with a professional instructor in a systematic manner, as opposed to learning by trial and error, or by learning from a non-professional, where it is possible to acquire another person's 'bad' driving habits.

In some jurisdictions, the completion of an approved driver education course allows new drivers to shorten the time it takes to gain full licensure (i.e., it serves as a “time discount”) within graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems. However, it is generally accepted that the completion of traditional driver education should not be taken as a substitute for on-road driving practice, particularly supervised practice. The primary reason for this is that, despite its appeal as a means for reducing risk of collision, driver education/training has not been shown to have safety benefits. Evaluations of traditional driver education programs have not shown that they are associated with a decreased collision risk (Mayhew, 2007).

The Research

For instance, Mayhew and Simpson (1996, 2002) reviewed evaluations of driver education programs in Canada, the United States, and Europe, and found no evidence that such programs contributed to lower collision rates. More recent research conducted in British Columbia showed that individuals who had completed an approved driver education course for a “time discount” actually had higher crash rates than those who had not (Wiggins, 2004). Similar results have been found for Ontario (Boase and Tasca 1998) and for Nova Scotia (Mayhew et al. 2003). Other recent reviews have also reported counter-intuitive results, i.e., that there is little or no evidence that driver education/training improves overall driver safety (e.g., Christie, 2000; Engstrom, Gregersen, Hernetkoski, & Nyberg, 2003; Senserrick & Haworth, 2005).

It is possible that novice drivers who take driver training may be involved in more collisions because they receive less driving exposure and practice in the learner or novice phases of GDL programs, due to the “time discount” practice (Mayhew, 2007; Mayhew et al., 2006). In fact, the notion of a time discount for the completion of driver education training runs contrary to the central, protective features of GDL, because it decreases the amount of time spent in supervised practice. Crash risk is inversely related to accumulated driving experience – i.e., risk decreases as experience increases (e.g., Maycock, Lockwood, & Lester, 1991). Therefore, new drivers who receive a time discount for participating in driver education may not have better driving histories due to their more limited driving exposure. However, even after controlling for driving exposure, Wiggins (2004) did not find that that crash rates were lower among individuals who had completed driver education.

In sum, what is known to date is that driver education can be an effective means by which novice drivers can learn the basics of safe driving, get comfortable behind the wheel, and learn what to expect on the road test. However, there is as yet no compelling evidence that driver education/training produces safety benefits in terms of reduced risk of collision. On the other hand, many new, improved driver education/training programs have not yet been evaluated or not evaluated properly (Lonero and Clinton 2006). Such evaluations are just now in their beginning stages and the results will be anxiously awaited.

In the meantime, it is important not to allow the completion of driver education to lead to a false sense of security. Until there is evidence to the contrary, such programs are best viewed as complements to GDL systems rather than as a means around them. Instead, it would be better to view driver education/training as the beginning of a long-term learning process along the path toward becoming a safe driver.


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