How Much of a Difference Does Driver’s Ed Really Make?

Did you know there are nine US states that don’t require a driver’s ed course as a prerequisite to a driver’s license? 

It’s true! Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. all allow drivers to get a license without completing driver’s ed. These states may have other learning requirements (like supervised practice time behind the wheel), but they haven’t made driver’s ed compulsory yet.

Then there are states like Florida, which require a drug and alcohol course, but not a full driver’s ed course. 

And why not? 

Interestingly, it appears as though some legislatures question the effectiveness of formal driver training. But are those questions warranted? 

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at driver’s ed courses to answer a big question: How much of a difference does driver’s ed really make?

But before we can answer that question, we need to take a quick look at the challenges faced by today’s drivers. 

Cars Are Getting Smarter, But Are Drivers?

There’s no question that smart technology is making cars safer. In a recent study about how smart car features keep you safe on the road, we found that:

  • 86% of surveyed drivers with automatic emergency braking report that this feature helped them avoid an accident. 

  • 83% of those with blind-spot monitoring, say the same.

  • 76% of respondents with forward collision warning systems believe that this feature also helped them avoid an accident.

  • In fact, drivers with forward collision warning systems were 20% less likely to report that they had been involved in an accident within the last year than drivers without this feature.

However, we have also seen road conditions becoming more dangerous due to both lifestyle factors and over-reliance on smart tech.

Take our growing dependence on smartphones, for example. We all know it’s dangerous to use a phone while driving. And yet, 68% of Americans admit to doing it anyway. This is especially problematic for Millennial and Gen Z drivers, who are 32% more likely than older generations to be distracted by their phones while driving. And our always-on-call culture is making this worse, with 26% of Americans admitting to using their phones while driving because they’re afraid of missing a work-related call or message.   

Furthermore, our reliance on smart car tech is making us compliant as drivers. A recent study found that:

  • 61% of respondents reported being more comfortable briefly looking away from the road because of their car’s safety features. 

  • 58% of those with pedestrian detection admit they are less likely to manually check the area around their vehicle for pedestrians.

  • Half of drivers with drowsiness-detection say they’re more likely to drive while tired because of this feature.  

Driver Safety Stats Are Getting Worse

From 2016 to 2019, driver safety was improving (according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Traffic deaths were decreasing year after year. Then the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically interrupted our driving patterns. And suddenly, we saw a 6.8% increase in fatalities for 2020, followed by a further 10.5% increase in 2021. In fact, 2021 saw traffic fatalities at an all-time high. 

Some states are worse than others. 

Florida, for example, holds three of the top five slots for the US cities with the worst drivers. And in the National Safety Council’s list of states with the highest motor-vehicle death toll, Florida ranks number 3 (behind California and Texas). Motor vehicle deaths in Florida have increased from 2,536 in 2010 to 3,906 in 2021. And this is not just because of the population growth. The deaths per 100,000 residents increased from 13.5 to 17.9 over that same period.    

Given this driving climate, what do we know about driver’s ed programs’ ability to produce safer drivers?

Does Driver’s Ed Produce Safer Drivers?

The fact is, it’s difficult to tell how much of a difference driver’s ed makes for a few reasons:

  1. There are so many more factors involved in traffic safety. Driver improvements because of driver’s ed programs can be overshadowed by the lifestyle and tech-reliance changes mentioned earlier.  

  2. Establishing causal relationships can be difficult. Would a driver have been in an accident if they had not taken their driver’s ed course? It’s impossible to say. 

  3. The quality of driver’s ed programs can vary widely from one course to another. Courses that allow students to zone out may have no impact while engaging courses can create better drivers.   

For these reasons, we have some conflicting data from studies conducted over the last decade.

  • A 2016 Car and Driver Report claimed that driver’s education may be “the best way to learn to drive,” but doesn’t necessarily reduce crashes. 

  • However, a 2014 study by AAA found that driver’s ed reduced crashes by 4.3% and traffic incident convictions by nearly 40%. 

  • And, a 2015 study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that driver’s ed significantly reduces teen crashes and tickets. According to this study of 150,000 teen drivers over eight years, “Young drivers who have not completed driver's education are 75% more likely to get a traffic ticket, 24% more likely to be involved in a fatal or injury accident, and 16% more likely to have an accident.

The Specific Driver’s Ed Course You Choose Makes All the Difference 

In reading through the studies on the efficiency of driver’s ed programs, one thing is clear: the driver’s ed school you choose makes a huge difference in your performance as a driver.

Importantly, the 2016 Car and Driver Report, which found no correlation between driver’s ed and reduced crashes, specifically followed an in-person driving school that used the “legacy” curriculum format, which had been used since the 1940s. It consisted of 30 hours of classroom lectures plus six hours of drive time. 

Education has come a long way since the 1940s. The driver’s ed schools that have embraced modern learning styles are more effective at producing safer drivers.

Take Aceable’s Online Driver’s Ed Courses, for example. Aceable uses learning science to create courses that are more likely to have positive, long-lasting impacts on students, including:

  • Self-pacing. Working at your own pace allows you to fully absorb the material. 

  • Digestible lessons. Courses are broken up into bite-sized chunks to prevent cognitive overload.

  • “Interstitial” reviews. Having quick reviews as you progress helps you to remember what you’ve learned. 

  • Images and videos. Many students are visual learners who recall more of what they see rather than what they hear. And images stick with most students even better than written text. 

  • Engaging content. You’ll get to play games and answer questions, which makes the materials more interesting and more memorable. 

If you’re looking to gain an edge in passing your driving test, while building potentially life-saving driving skills, enroll in your Aceable’s Online Driver’s Ed Course today! 

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