Driver's Ed Gets an 'F'

Courses do little to reduce accidents or deaths, study claims

MONDAY, Sept. 22, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- It's natural to think more training would make you a better driver. That's why driver education classes can get points knocked off your license and maybe even garner you a better rate on your auto insurance.

But do these classes work?

Not really, says a new British study.

After examining data from more than 20 studies on driver education, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found driver's education for experienced motorists offers little benefit. The lone exception: courses for those just learning to drive who are being taught the basics.

"No one form of education was found to be substantially more effective than another, nor was a significant difference found between advanced driver education and remedial driver education," say the authors in the study published in the Fall 2003 issue of the Cochrane Review.

Every year, according to the study, more than 1 million people are killed and another 10 million disabled in automobile crashes worldwide. Driver education is a popular strategy aimed at reducing the number of accidents and the severity of injury, says the study.

The researchers gathered information from 24 studies done on driver education since 1962. The studies included more than 300,000 drivers. Twenty-three of the studies were done in the United States and one was done in Sweden.

Four of the studies looked at advanced driver's education and the other 20 were remedial driver's education classes, meaning they were targeted to drivers who already had accidents and had been ticketed for driving offenses.

Though some studies did show a modest benefit -- around 2 percent to 4 percent risk reduction -- the authors believe this difference isn't statistically significant.

"This systemic review of randomized controlled trials provides no evidence that post-license driver education programs are effective in preventing road traffic injuries or crashes," the researchers conclude.

Russ Rader, a spokesman for The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research organization funded by insurance companies, says he agrees that driver's education programs often don't work.

"While driver's education does do a good job teaching basic driving skills, there's no evidence that it reduces crashes," he says. "It's difficult to change behaviors and young drivers are risky drivers, and driver's education can't do anything to change that."

"It doesn't do much for older drivers either, because most people think they are above-average drivers and don't need driver education," Rader says.

One approach that does work, he says, is tough enforcement of traffic safety laws. People would be much less likely to drive through stop signs or red lights, he says, if they thought there was was a good chance they'd get a ticket.

Not surprisingly, Scott Owens, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Interactive, a company that produces home video driver education programs and an online driving course, disagrees with Rader and the study.

"It's unfair to say any type of continuing education wouldn't benefit drivers in the long run," says Owens. He adds his company has done studies, one with the Florida Department of Highway Safety, that have found a reduction in the number of accidents after driver's education classes.

He says that while some of what the new study is saying may be true, the researchers were looking at data from driver education programs conducted as long as 25 years ago, and classes have changed. He says good driver education courses now include a level of accountability that wasn't there in the past.

Plus, he says, many of today's drivers could really use a refresher course. "For most drivers, the only education they get is when they're 16, but drivers need to be updated, particularly now with new technology, like anti-lock brakes and airbags."

More information

To learn more about the role driver distractions play in automobile crashes, visit the AAA Foundation. Here are some tips on driving safety from the National Safety Council.

SOURCES: Russ Rader, spokesman, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Va.; Scott Owens, president and chief executive officer, U.S. Interactive, Houston; Fall 2003 Cochrane Review
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