of a car was established in most states. In the intervening decades, however, these programs did not reduce crash involvement among beginning drivers. Recognizing that no differences emerged in the crash records of driver education graduates and those of equivalent groups of beginning drivers who learned to drive without formal education, many states scaled back funding for these programs. From a peak in 1976, when 3,200,000 students in 17,000 public schools took driver education courses, the number has steadily declined. In 1981 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) dropped driver education from its list of priority programs; however, many states still require formal training as a condition of licensure prior to age 18.
The goals for driver education classes are generally straightforward— to teach young people the rules of the road, the basic skills they need to control the car, and safe driving practices, such as defensive driving and risk assessment. Research conducted during the early years (1940 through 1960) generally yielded the positive finding that the programs produced safer drivers. Later researchers, however, cast doubt on the findings of earlier studies, finding that their methodology did not take into account significant differences between those who did and did not take the courses, for example. Such differences might include individual motivations and safety mindedness, as well as larger demographic differences related to socioeconomic status. Moreover, newer studies indicated that the availability of driver education programs (in states that require teens who wish to be licensed before age 18 to successfully complete such a program) provided the opportunity for young people to get a license before age 18. When more drivers under 18 are licensed, more teens are at risk of crashing and more crashes occur.1 Finally, a large-scale 1983 NHTSA state-of-the-art study (the “DeKalb study”) (Stock et al., 1983) used randomized assignment to evaluate the impact of the driver education curriculum, and the results did not support the effectiveness of driver education in reducing crash rates. In response to that study, governmental support for driver education declined (Mayhew and Simpson, 1997; Young, 1993).
Driver education is not viewed as a lost cause by safety experts, however. Suggestions have been made that these programs could address safety