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Many U.S. Teens Hit the Road Without Driver's Ed: Survey

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 15 (HealthDay News) -- A U.S. survey reveals that in states that don't require driver's education before getting a license, about one-third of students skip driver's ed classes and more than half fail to undergo any formal behind-the-wheel training.

Males, blacks, Hispanics and students with poor academic records were especially unlikely to have received driver's ed or behind-the-wheel training, according to the report published online and in the March print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The findings show that "if a state doesn't require driver's education, certain groups of kids are less likely to get it," said study lead author Allison Curry, director of epidemiology and biostatistics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Injury Research and Prevention.

Rules about driver's education and training behind the wheel vary throughout the United States. California and Maine, for example, require drivers who get licenses under the age of 18 to take driver's education, while Idaho sets the age limit at 17. Some states, including Arkansas, New Jersey, South Dakota and Mississippi, don't require supervised behind-the-wheel training.

The current report is based on the results of a 2006 survey that included 1,770 high school students who had driver's licenses. The students were asked about the kind of driver's education they had received.

The students lived in 34 states, of which 25 had driver's education requirements.

Almost 80 percent said they'd participated in driver's education: 84 percent in states that required it and 62 percent in those that didn't. But the gap was bigger for some groups of students, the researchers found.

Among Hispanics, the percentage of students who took driver's education was 68 percent in states with the requirement, but only 29 percent in states without requirements. The respective numbers were 88 and 53 percent for black students; 82 and 55 percent for students in schools with lots of poor kids; 84 and 59 percent for males; and 82 and 51 percent for kids who mostly received low to failing grades.

Research suggests that some of these groups, such as poor kids, Hispanics and blacks, are more likely to get into car accidents, Curry said.

So why are certain groups of kids less likely to take driver's education or get training on the road? Economics is one probable factor, Curry said. "If you have to pay hundreds of dollars for private driver's education, it might place a burden on your family and become unmanageable."

Jean Thatcher Shope, associate director of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, said that "the findings are not particularly useful or surprising."

For one, she said, it's not unexpected that more kids take driver's education in states that require it. However, "what may be surprising is that so many teens have had driver's education in states that do not require it," Shope said.

Overall, Shope pointed out, "the study does not tell us what makes young drivers safer, which is the important question."

There's "scant or little evidence that driver education results in safer drivers," although it does teach people about road rules and basic vehicle handling, she said. As for behind-the-wheel training, Shope said it's helpful, but supervised practice is more important.

More information

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has details about driver licensing systems in the United States.

SOURCES: Allison E. Curry, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of epidemiology and biostatistics, Center for Injury Research and Prevention, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Jean Thatcher Shope, Ph.D., research professor and associate director, Transportation Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; March 2012, Pediatrics

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