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Driver’s Education in the United States is Broken

Driver’s Education in the United States is Broken

Whenever I hear about a car crash, I can’t help but think about the tragic death of one of my high school classmates. He died in a car accident after leaving a Christmas party. He was driving under the influence of alcohol. When his life ended, he was only 18.

For decades, the US has been an example for the entire world imposing laws that prohibit people under 21 to drink and offering free driver’s education courses in high schools. While the first rule still applies, the driver’s education system seems to be broken.

Many factors affect car crash statistics, but the decisive element in most car accidents is the human behind the wheel. Until we are properly taught how to drive and how to behave behind the wheel, car accidents will still happen daily.

Why driver’s education in the US is broken?

Over 30 years ago, almost everyone in the States took driver’s education courses while in high school or in summer school. The courses were free and highly recommended.  Nowadays, the number of schools that offer driver’s ed is declining daily. And the ones which do offer the course, charge a minimum of $350 to enroll.

Why is the government allowing this to happen?

The driver’s education should become a requirement in order to graduate high school. You may think this might be a bit too much, but let’s think about it. Who are the most enthusiastic people on earth about driving?

Teenagers, right? They can’t wait to get their driver’s license and the car keys. It is a dream come true for them, and at the same time, it is the worst nightmare for their parents. According to some shocking teen driving statistics, car crashes are the number one cause of teen deaths in the U.S. So, how do we solve this problem?

Here are a few statistics to consider:

  • Drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are 4 times more likely to die in a crash than drivers between the ages of 25 and 69.
  • Teens have the highest chance of having a fatal crash within the first six months of getting their driver’s license.
  • Teen drivers were involved in 12% of all fatal crashes reported to the police.
  • Males are twice as likely as females to be killed in a crash while they’re teenagers.
  • 37% of male drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were speeding at the time of a fatal crash.
  • 55% of teens killed in car crashes weren’t using their seat belts.
  • 31% of teen drivers were under the influence at the time of their death.
  • Teen drivers were involved in 63% of teen passenger deaths and 19% of passenger deaths of all ages in fatal accidents.

As you can see, most teens who died or were involved in car crashes were speeding, drunk, or didn’t use their seat belts. Should we expect them to be responsible? Probably not.

We were all teens once. And we all know how important driving is for a teen’s self-esteem. Now we may be laughing at ourselves for being that irresponsible, but we know that teenagers’ lack of responsibility is putting at risk their lives and the lives of others on the road.

Of course, there are ways to prevent or at least decrease the number of car crashes. For example, parents or relatives can teach teens about driving. I am sure this could help to reduce the number of car accidents. But no matter how good the parents are as drivers, they are not professional instructors. Besides, most of them didn’t even enroll in a driver’s education course themselves. So, how can we expect great teaching from them?

The enrollment fee of at least $350 is also another bad factor here. Many families cannot afford to pay the fee, and that is lowering the number of people enrolled in driver’s ed. Yet, should driver’s education be free?

Moreover, what is more unsettling, is the fact that as many as 15 states in the US don’t even require students who have completed the driver’s education to pass the road test.  So, if you have successfully completed the driver’s education course, you can obtain a full unrestricted license without even passing a test. Moreover, the number of states that are applying this new law is increasing.

How can the U.S. fix its driver’s education system?

  1. By offering free driver’s education courses

It is true that these courses are expensive as schools have to pay for fuel, vehicles, insurance, and wages. Years ago, these courses were free. But the decrease in school funding in recent years is forcing schools to drop driver’s ed. Maybe schools can seek and apply for other types of funding or reduce their expenses in other areas in order to offer the driver’s education.

  1. By making driver’s education mandatory

The US should make driver’s education mandatory for all drivers under 19 who are seeking a driver’s license. The driver’s education course may save lives and can help prevent the death of many people. According to Reuters, in the Midwest, where driver’s ed is not mandatory, only 3 out of 10 teen drivers took the course. While in Midwestern states where driver’s education is mandatory, more than 9 out of 10 teens went through formal training.

  1. By raising the wages of driver’s education teachers

A lot of driver’s education instructors are giving up their profession, and fewer people are interested in getting certified to teach new drivers. Why? Because getting certified to teach is a pretty big commitment, and this kind of profession is very dangerous as well. Those who are already certified to teach are complaining about low wages, and this does not motivate new instructors to enter the field. With these factors in mind, the very first and right thing to do is to raise the wages. By doing this, I am sure, more people will be considering this profession.

  1. By requiring all adults to be re-certified

Every 5-7 years, most drivers have to take a comprehensive written test in order to renew their driver’s license. If they don’t pass, then they should go back to the driver’s education class. Rules may change with time, and some things can be forgotten. Cars, for example, improve rapidly over the years, but human behavior stays mostly the same.

My mom, for example, for a long time now has been following this rule “Drive at slow speed, all the time and you will be always safe.” Of course, this would work if back in the 90s when there were no highways in Eastern Europe, but thankfully things have changed. The infrastructure has changed, and we have modern highways now. And I keep telling her that if she is driving on a highway at 60 kph (40 mph) when everyone else is driving at 120 kph (75mph), she is the most dangerous driver out there. By trying to be extra careful, she is actually putting lives at risk. That’s why re-education would certainly help.

  1. By adopting European rules

Not all European countries are rigorous about driver’s education. In fact, some countries have never applied driver’s education in schools. But let’s not focus on those countries and take Germany as a good example.

Germany is famous for its strict driver’s education. A German driver’s license costs over $2000. And in order to successfully get it, you must complete 12 hours of theory and a minimum of 25-45 hours of professional instruction. The license test also includes questions about the mechanical aspects of an automobile, unlike the license test in the U.S.

On-the-road training time also includes night driving, autobahn experience, in-town driving, and a multitude of other driving situations. For more information, you can check this article where you can learn more about German driving rules.

Most European countries have a 0.05 blood alcohol limit for drunk driving. This rule also applies in Germany, where authorities punish violators by taking away their licenses and imposing high fines.

  1. By making public consultations every year

Public consultations that deal with driver’s training and traffic safety education can help define guidelines and recommendations for efficient driver training and traffic safety education in the U.S. Young and inexperienced drivers in the US represent a relatively large crash risk compared to other driving groups. So the consultations should mostly be addressed to them and help them keep learning new things even after they pass the test.

  1. By making driver’s education the responsibility of insurance companies

An alternative solution would be to move driver’s ed out of schools and make it the responsibility of the insurance companies. It should be an in-depth training program like they do in Europe. Schools will no longer have to worry about it, and the insurance companies will benefit in the long run with fewer and less costly claims.

Hopefully, things will get better in the future because right now it seems like the situation is getting worse day by day.  But hey, at least technology is on our side. Tests for Google’s autonomous vehicles in California and Nevada suggest they already outperform human drivers.

So, maybe we might not have to worry about car crashes in the future. But for now, if you or someone you know has been in a car crash and you are wondering how to get comfortable on the road again, you can read our last article here.

If you are a new driver and want to learn more about driving, this Driver’s Ed Guru website might come in handy:

Also, please let us know in the comments what you think about driver’s education decline, and feel free to add any other ways that you think might improve the driver’s education system in the U.S. Thank you.

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