Objectives: There is renewed attention on national standardization of formal driver education (DE) instruction and momentum toward realigning DE with its original goal of producing safer teen drivers. However, teen DE participation rates and how they differ among sociodemographic groups and in states with and without DE requirements remain largely unknown. Thus, our objective was to estimate national teen participation rates in formal classroom and behind-the-wheel DE instruction in relevant demographic subgroups and also estimate subgroup-specific participation rates by presence of a state DE requirement.
Methods: Data were collected via the National Young Driver Survey, administered to a nationally representative sample of 5665 public school 9th- through 11th-graders in Spring 2006. Analyses were restricted to 1770 students with driver licenses. Survey data were weighted to reflect national prevalence estimates.
Results: Overall, 78.8% of students reported participating in formal DE. However, in states without DE requirements, more than 1 in 3 students had no formal DE before licensure, and more than half had no behind-the-wheel training. Hispanics, blacks, males, and students with lower academic achievement participated in DE at markedly lower levels than counterparts in states with requirements. Notably, 71% of Hispanic students in states with no requirement received a license without receiving formal DE.
Conclusions: Considerable racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender disparities in DE participation may exist in states with no DE requirements. State DE requirements may be an effective strategy to reduce these disparities.