California Association for Safety Education

A Summary of the National Transportation Safety Boardís Recommendations on Driver Education

by Dale O. Ritzel

Director, Safety Center, Southern Illinois University

On 28-29 October 2005 the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted a public forum on novice driver education and training in Washington, DC. This public forum was held as a result of a motor vehicle crash involving a driver education vehicle and truck tractor and semi-trailer which occurred near Belgrade, Montana on 23 January 2003. The driver education teacher and 3 students died in the crash. On 20 June 2005 the NTSB issued a highway accident brief that indicated the probable cause of the crash was the driver education student driverís loss of control due to slushy roadway conditions. NTSB indicated that a contributing factor to the loss of control was the student driverís inexperience driving in degraded winter weather.

The public forum highlighted several critical points:

    1. Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.

    2. What works and what does not work in developing safe drivers is not known. Measuring the effectiveness of driver education programs is difficult because of the myriad factors that contribute to teenage driver crashes.

    3. Little conclusive research on what constitutes an effective driver education program is available

    4. Although skill development alone does not necessarily equate to safe driving, most driver education programs do not take into account at all how teenagers in todayís environment learn and assimilate knowledge that leads to skill development.

    5. State requirements for driver education vary greatly; for instance, no consensus exists on whether or how driver education should complement graduated driver licensing, which all States are already implementing to some extent.

    6. Driver education programs have not been designed to integrate skill development, teenagerís learning styles, and task sequencing, which would help ensure that young drivers have the knowledge and skills to drive safely when they receive a license with full driving privileges.

    7. The 30 hours of classroom and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training that most students receive may not be adequate to teach teenagers how to be safe drivers and is not based on a thorough analysis of how teenagers learn or on a progression of task complexity.

After almost 2 years from the time of the public forum, on 5 August 2005 the NTSB issued its summary, conclusions, and recommendations about the public forum and driver education. The report starts by highlighting the scope of the teenage driving problem by indicating that teenage drivers are disproportionately involved in crashes and more needs to be done to reduce this problem.

The report next reviews the driver education curriculum. The De Kalb County, Georgia safe performance curriculum project was reviewed. The report also discusses the fact that there is no consistent driver education curriculum for both classroom and laboratory instruction. Best practices for driver education has not been documented and evaluated.

Teenagers learning styles are also discussed in the report. NTSB concludes that to be effective, novice driver education must take into account research results that offer an understanding of how teenagers learn and of the behavioral environment in which teenagers typically function. NTSB is encouraging a multivariate approach to teaching and learning where visual/listening/doing approaches are used.

NTSB is suggesting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) work together in determining which driver education methods result in increased safety for novice drivers. NHTSA and USDE should solicit input from driver education providers in determining these methods. After reviewing all appropriate instructional tools, training methods and curricula, NHTSA and USDE should propose a model driver education and training curriculum.

As many of you are aware, the field of driver education made the mistake in 1949 of recommending a minimum of 30 hours of classroom and 6 hours of in-car instruction for driver education. Over the years the 30 and 6 has become the minimum and maximum and everything in between for most driver education programs. Research has shown the 30 and 6 driver education program can not be expected to transform a non-driver into a safe driver. NTSB concluded in their report that 30 hours of classroom training followed sequentially by 6 hours of in-car training was determined arbitrarily and is probably inadequate to teach teenagers the skills necessary to drive safely on todayís roadways.

The report went on to discuss the role of graduated driver licensing (GDL) in regards to young novice drivers. NTSB stated that NHTSA and USDE should determine the optimum sequencing, in conjunction with GDL qualifications, for educating teenagers in safe driving skills, both in the classroom and in-car, and encourage the States to adopt this requirement.

Finally, as a result of the public forum and its own investigation, NTSB made the following recommendations:

    1. USDE and NHTSA should review current driver education and training programs in use nationally and internationally and determine which instructional tools, training methods, and curricula are consistent with what have been identified as best teaching methodologies and have led to or are likely to lead to a reduction in crashes. These best practices should be incorporated into a model driver education and training curriculum.

    2. USDE and NHTSA should determine the optimum sequencing, in conjunction with GDL qualifications, for educating teenagers in safe driving skills, both classroom and in-car, and encourage the States to adopt this requirement.

Reprinted with permission of the author. This article appeared in the Fall 2005 I.D.E.A. Journal

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