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Parent-Taught Driver Education Saves Lives

By Chris Klicka
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #41, 2001.

You've taught them everything from reading to math... Now it's time for you to teach them to drive.
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Chris Klicka

Maybe your son just turned 15. He can't wait to drive. Although you're not too confident he'll be ready to drive anytime soon, you know it is too difficult to delay his driving until he is 18.

Or your daughter is already 16 and you are thinking how wonderful it will be to have her do some errands for you so you can spend less time as the family chauffeur.

Perhaps you heard about a recent major accident where two young drivers were badly injured and one was killed. Apparently, the inexperienced driver became distracted and lost control of the vehicle. These are the types of stories you have heard many times before in the news.

A father in your church bemoans the fact that his daughter recently crashed the family car for the second time. Fortunately, only the car was damaged. No one was hurt. But his insurance rates are going up and his car is in the shop again.

Deep down you are worried about your children. You know young inexperienced drivers are dangerous. The statistics demonstrate that teenagers cause a large portion of accidents.

If children who take public school or commercial driver courses are causing all of these accidents, what can you do differently to better train your children how to drive?

How about doing it yourself? After all, you teach your children in all other subjects. You and your spouse taught them how to walk, talk, read, write, figure, research, be self-disciplined, do hundreds of types of chores, numerous skills, and to know and live by God's absolute moral standards.

Why not teach your children how to drive?

Traditional Programs Are Failing

Although all 50 states have laws regarding driver's education, statistics demonstrate the current methods are not working. More 16-year-old drivers are dying in vehicle crashes than ever before, even though the number of traffic deaths has declined among the driving populace in general. In 1997, 5,697 teenagers died in the United States from motor vehicle crash injuries. Such injuries are by far the leading public health problem for young people 13-19 years old. The crash risk is particularly high during the first years in which teenagers are eligible for driver's licenses. Thirty-six percent of all deaths of 16-19-year-olds are related to motor vehicles.

The problem is worse in the United States than in many other countries because we allow teenagers to get licenses and cars at an earlier age than in most other countries, and little driving experience is required before these licenses are issued. Licenses are also inexpensive and easy to obtain.

This past year, I traveled to Germany to help local home schoolers establish their own German home school legal defense organization. I learned that it is very difficult for young people to obtain drivers licenses. First, a student must be 18 to obtain a license. Secondly, a driver's license costs over $1,500!

In America, the risk of crash involvement per mile driven among drivers 16-19 years old is four times the risk among older drivers. Risk is highest at ages 16 and 17. In fact, the crash rate per mile driven is almost three-times as high among 16-year-olds as it is among 18-19 year olds.

Crashes involving young people typically are single-vehicle crashes, primarily run-off-the-road crashes that involve driver error and/or speeding.

A recent study on driver education conducted by George Mason University in Virginia (cited below) sheds light on the reasons why teenagers are susceptible to driving mishaps:

Teens, on their part, view driving as a right rather than a privilege. Overwhelmingly, study participants cited teen drivers' inexperience as well as their feeling of invincibility and willingness to take risks as contributing factors in unsafe driving behaviors. Participants also noted that teen drivers are easily distracted and lack the skills and judgment necessary to recover from unexpected incidents.

Certified Driver Education Does Not Ensure Results

Many states require driver's education to be administered through the local public school or a "state certified" commercial driving school. Shouldn't parents also have the choice to teach their children how to drive safely? After all, it is parents who are responsible for the safety and well-being of their children.

Besides, there is no statistical correlation between "certified-led" driving instruction and lower crash rates. In fact, the Young Drivers Video, produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, paid for in part by State Farm, tells the viewing audience not to depend on traditional driver education and training. One of the experts interviewed on the training video, Dr. Herb Simpson, simply declares that traditional driver's education programs "have little or no value."

You Are The Solution

Parental involvement is the answer. I am convinced the best way to be involved in your teenager's driving instruction is to do it yourself!

I have talked to thousands of parents who despaired over the academic decline in the public schools. They turned to homeschooling to prevent their child from becoming a statistic of academic failure. They often told me, "We can do a better job of teaching our children than the schools." And they did! All the statistics show that homeschooling students all over the country continue to excel academically. Why do homeschool children score higher on average than the national average on national achievement tests? Because parents teach them one-on-one, know their strengths and weaknesses best, love them more, and are willing to sacrifice what it takes to provide them a good education.

Teaching your own children how to drive is merely an extension of this philosophy. It is an opportunity to apply the same principles involved in successful homeschooling. But you can add one important ingredient and incentive: in driver training, your children's lives are at stake.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believes that parent-directed driver's education is a reasonable alternative for families in lieu of state-licensed drivers education programs. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a study in 1985 of 52,304 public high school licensed and unlicensed students from 75 schools in seven different states. They found, "The most important teaching sources were fathers, mothers and school courses." Sixty-six percent of the high school drivers reported their fathers contributed some or a lot and 56 percent reported similar contributions from their mothers.

As of January 1997, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Status Report advised Americans that traditional driver education does not provide the intended benefits of producing a safer driver. This report suggests that the way to lower crash potential is to gradually release young drivers as they demonstrate maturity and skill, while simultaneously using parents to train and monitor them during this process. Therefore, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommends that new drivers be trained through what they call Graduated Driver Licensing - a systematic process that controls progression to unrestricted driving. The new driver initially receives a restricted license and graduates to an unrestricted license through time and increased experience. Graduated licensing laws have been adopted in 44 states and usually include such restrictions as curfews, limits on the number of teen passengers, requirements involving parental supervision, and zero tolerance for teen alcohol use.

Parent-taught driver education programs such as the National Driver Training Institute (NDTI) of Colorado Springs and Driver Ed in a Box of Texas take the process a step further by providing entirely parent-taught programs. Rather than rely on the state to oversee the young driver's progress, the parents assess the teen's maturity, attitude, and experience to determine the conditions under which he may drive. Many of the largest insurance companies across the country have recognized NDTI's parent-taught driver education program, Help for the Teenager Who Wants to Drive as an approved program. Many states have formally approved or certified the program.

In October 2000, the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs conducted a research project on the effectiveness of parent-taught driver training. The survey population consisted of teens who had completed the National Driver Training Institute's parent-taught driver education program.

The statistics show parent-taught driver training saves lives!

For example, according to insurance company statistics, out of every 100 teen drivers:

  • 37 will be ticketed for speeding
  • 28 will be involved in accidents
  • 13 will be injured in an automobile accident
  • 4 will be ticketed for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • 1 will be killed in an automobile accident

On the other hand, according to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs survey, for every 100 students using NDTI's parent-taught driver education program:

  • 8 were ticketed for speeding
  • 8 were involved in accidents
  • 6 were injured in automobile accidents
  • 1 was ticketed for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • there were NO fatalities

In the 1940s and 50s, parents were the primary teachers of their own children in driver's education programs. Later in the 1960s and 70s, the focus shifted to school-taught driver education. This shift was made in the hopes of assisting teenagers in driving tests and in gaining important driving skills. However, this has not improved teenage driving safety, as the statistics clearly demonstrate.

A study of issues affecting young drivers, released in December 2000 by George Mason University's Center for Advancement of Public Health and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, identified parental involvement as the most important factor in teaching teens safe driving behaviors. The study is entitled, Young Drivers: A Study of Policies and Practices. Data for the study was gathered through interviews with state and national experts as well as focus groups held with parents, teens, and driver education instructors. The study reports that teens develop driving habits based on their parents as role models.

However, the study notes that in teaching teens to drive, parents often rely on the information and techniques with which they are familiar and unknowingly pass on outdated and sometimes erroneous information. While driver education provides a comprehensive overview for first-time drivers, the curriculum is most effective when parents get involved in behind-the-wheel practice sessions with young drivers. Parents are often unaware that young drivers need far more practical experience behind the wheel than the driver's education curriculum is able to provide. (The study is available on the George Mason University website at www.caph.gmu.edu, www.safety.gmu.edu, or may be requested by calling (703) 993-3697.)

How Do Parent-Taught Driver Education Courses Work?

The above reports show an added benefit of parent-taught driver education: in addition to teaching their children to drive, parents have now completed an 80-hour brush-up course! Parents who have signed affidavits of completion for their students have stated often that they have learned much from teaching their children how to drive and that their driving skills been enhanced as well.

Sources for two parent-taught driver education programs can be found at the end of this article.

When considering parent-taught driver education programs, always consider the thoroughness of the program, whether it is recognized in your state (if necessary), and whether your insurance company will give you a driver education discount. The most important factor, of course, is the safety of your children on the road behind the steering wheel.

The Law Should Allow Parent-Directed Driver Training

In May of 1997, the state law in Texas was amended to allow for parent-taught driver's education programs. This change in state law put parents in the center of the training process. In early January of 1998, the Texas Board of Insurance reviewed this process and recommended its inclusion in the same category of training discounts as traditional methods. An insurance discount on premiums will encourage parents to seek this form of training, while reducing loss on the part of the insurance industry when they insure these more thoroughly trained, safer drivers.

Additionally, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Virginia have passed similar legislation recognizing the ability of parents to provide driver education to their students. The Departments of Motor Vehicles or Departments of Education in several other states have approved various parent-taught driver education programs.

Many more states do not require any specific requirements for driver education, leaving parents free to choose between commercial driver education schools, public schools, or parent-taught driver education courses. Information sources at the end of this article can be checked to find out the laws in your state.

One comment on public-school driver education programs. Homeschoolers sometimes have difficulty accessing these classes and they do not involve much parental involvement. However, driver education classes through the public school or commercial schools could always be supplemented by parent-taught driver education programs to ensure your child becomes the best and safest driver he or she can be. Our children's lives are precious.

As Senior Counsel at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), I direct our legislative and legal contact work in all 50 states. In addition to defending homeschoolers being investigated by social workers and truant officers and working on home school and parents' right and religious freedom legislation, we work to help expand parental choice in the area of parent-taught driver education.

We urge you to be prepared to help pass parent-taught driver education in your state or help preserve it if it has already been enacted. HSLDA believes that there are several reasons why the state legislatures should pass a parent-directed driver's training act:

  1. It encourages parents to participate with the child in learning and to take more responsibility for the outcome. A parent typically has the greatest interest in the safety and well-being of the child.

  2. From the research we reviewed, there appears to be no statistical evidence in support of the claim that certified state-mandated programs reduce crash rates. Parents with a good curriculum can provide a graduated form of instruction allowing for more time behind the wheel.

  3. Allowing parents to teach their own children to drive provides them an alternative to public and commercial driving schools. It is cost-effective, convenient, and allows for a more gradual approach to learning new skills.

  4. If certified instruction has no statistical effect on safety, what compelling interest does the government have in mandating it? Such mandates conflict with the fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children.

  5. The reason for the effectiveness of parent-taught driver education is the same as the reason for the effectiveness of home education in general. Both utilize the tutorial method with a low student-to-teacher ratio and individualized instruction aimed at mastery. Furthermore, parents do not want their children to harm themselves or cause accidents. Since parents care the most about their children and have the most to lose in the form of higher insurance rates and repairs to vehicles, parents take the time to teach their children well.

What are you waiting for? Let's personally help our teenagers learn how to drive and as a result, maybe save their lives.

For more information:

  • Driver Ed in a Box, 10830 Piping Rock Lane, Houston, TX 77042-2726. (713) 780-3383. Fax: (713) 977-4489.
  • National Driver Training Institute, P.O. Box 63179, Colorado Springs, CO 80962. (800) 942-2050. Web: www.nationaldrivertraining.com.
  • For a complete summary of the driver education laws in all 50 states, visit http://www.iihs.org/laws/default.html
  • Visit Home School Legal Defense Association's website to join the effort to pass parent-taught driver education legislation in more states. www.hslda.org.
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