Everyone knows that sharing the road with newly-minted teenage drivers can be an auto accident waiting to happen. A recent study published in Pediatrics offers a new explanation as to why-teenage drivers are simply not participating in driver’s education classes in states that don’t require them.

In 2006, researchers conducted a survey of 1,770 high school students with driver’s licenses and asked them whether or not they had taken driver’s education classes. The researchers found that when a teenager lived in a state that required driver’s education before receiving a license, 84 percent of teens reported that they did take the classes. But when a teen driver lived in a state that did not require these courses, only 62 percent of survey respondents reported that they took driver’s ed.

The study also found that some groups of teens were less likely to take driver’s education courses than others. For example:

  • About 68 percent of Hispanic students who lived in states requiring driver’s education took those courses, while only 29 percent did in states that did not require it
  • Approximately 53 percent of black students don’t take driver’s education if the course was not required, while 88 percent participated if they lived in states with the requirement
  • Roughly 84 percent of male teenagers took driver’s education when it was required in their state, while only 59 percent took these courses if it was not
  • About 82 percent of teens who came from economically disadvantaged homes took driver’s education if they were required to and only 55 percent of these teens took it when they weren’t required to

Allison Curry, lead researcher and Director of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says that it’s not surprising that some groups of teenagers are not taking driver’s ed if the courses aren’t required.

“Some jurisdictions may not offer school based driver education. So overall it might be less accessible in states without mandates,” she says.

Is Driver’s Education Effective?

Although experts agree that teens need more practice behind the wheel before they get a full driver’s license, some question whether driver’s education courses are effective.

Jean Thatcher Shope, the Associate Director of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, said in an interview with Reuters Health that the kind of education that you provide to new drivers is what really counts. “What we think makes a bigger difference is the supervised practice driving that a teen does, hopefully for many months, usually with a parent in the car,” she said.

In addition, some believe that driver’s education, which has not been changed much since the 1950s, is woefully out of date. Fortunately, in order to give driver’s ed a makeover, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is making recommendations to states that will help them update these courses with evidence-based practices designed to help teens drive in a safer manner.