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Driver's ed in Arizona: Do driver's education programs make roads safer?

Posted at 3:27 PM, Aug 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-22 21:40:59-04

It is a tense moment for many parents: their teen is driving solo for the first time. For that to happen, teens do not have to take a driver's education program in Arizona. 

Arizona is among the states that do not have a law requiring drivers ed. Some parents wonder why it's not mandated. 

"You're putting your kid in a car, it's a lethal weapon," said Lee Sera, who has two teen daughters. "I think why wouldn't you want to get them driver's ed?"

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In order for Arizona teens to obtain a Graduated Driver's License, they must have held an instruction permit for at least six months. Those under the age of 18 can then apply for a graduated license after they complete a driver education program or they have 30 hours (10 at night) of supervised driving, with a parent or guardian certifying it in writing. 

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"These kids need a whole lot more," said Maria Wojtczak, who runs Driving MBA, an MVD-Approved driving school. "Even the 30 hours, even if a parent chooses just to do the driving, it's not enough."

Via email, the Arizona Department of Transportation noted roughly half of the United States do not have a law requiring driver's education. However, Arizona drivers do need to pass a written and road test to obtain a license. 

So, do driver's education programs make the roads safer?

According to a 2008 Report to Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrote "Many carefully conducted studies of driver education in the United States and abroad have failed to provide evidence for decreased crash rates among teen drivers who have participated in driver education programs"

"What I make of that is we're still doing driver's ed like we did 60 years ago," said Wojtczak, who touted her company's driving simulators. "It's about hands-on, it's about your ability to get out've got to practice."

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The same report from the NHTSA does note that driver education is effective at making sure new drivers know the rules of the road and basic vehicle control skills. 

According to data from the NHTSA, the number of young drivers (ages 15-20) who were killed in crashes nationally decreased by 40% between 2007 and 2016, despite many states lacking a driver's ed requirement. 

Sera says it boils down to common sense. 

"As a parent, I'm not an expert in driving," she said. "I think it's best to have someone else who is an expert teach your child to drive."

For now, that's up to each family in Arizona. 

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