New study shows link in safe driving, drivers education

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thanks to the Internet smartphones and social media, obtaining a drivers license isn't the milestone it once was.

"Dragging main" is no longer the only way to find out what your friends are doing or catching the attention of that boy or girl you have a crush on.

But driving isn't an option for some, rural teens expecially, who need to be able to get themselves to a far-away school or job.

And, unless they've grown up driving farm machinery the way that used to be the norm for farm kids, many kids don't build up the "windshield time" these days before obtaining that license.

The state has instituted a graduated licensing system to make the transition to full driving privileges more safe, requiring drivers education or logging driving hours under adult supervision, and driving safely for at least a year before they can get a full driver's license.

Generally, the provisional permit forbids teens from driving without supervision after midnight. It also prohibits having more than one teenaged friend in the car during the first six months of driving.

Most schools don't offer drivers education, including McCook public schools, which depend on third parties such as McCook Community College to provide that service.

High schools may want to reconsider that system, according to a new study conducted by the Nebraska Prevention Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Following more than 150 teen drivers over eight years, the study found that driver's education significantly reduces crashes and traffic violations among new drivers.

If they don't take driver's education, young drivers are 75 percent more likely to get a traffic ticket, 24 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal or injury accident and 16 percent more likely to have an accident, according to the study.

Those results fly in the face of studies dating back to the early 1980s that found no benefit to driver's education courses -- studies that combined with tight government budgets to reduce state support for driver's education classes.

About 53 percent of the teens in the UNL study took a state-approved driver's education course to qualify for the permit, and the rest qualified by logging 50 hours of practice under supervision.

The study found:

* 11.1 percent of driver's education graduates cohort was involved in a car crash, compared to 12.9 percent who did not take a course.

* 2.1 percent of the driver's ed group was involved in an accident that caused injury or death, compared to 2.6 percent who did not take a course.

* 10.4 percent who took driver's ed were ticketed for moving traffic violations, compared to 18.3 percent of those who did not take driver's education.

And similar trends were seen for alcohol-related violations and for crashes and traffic violations during the second year of driving.

Granted, with the exception of the rate of ticketed violations, the difference between drivers-ed and non-drivers-ed teen drivers is not that great.

But if the purpose of education is to make our young people more successful and safer, perhaps drivers education should return to the high school curriculum.

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