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Is Driver Training Good Enough?

New drivers have high crash rates. This isn’t news. Efforts continue to be made to minimize the risk to and from novice drivers. In British Columbia, for example, recent evaluation of the Graduated Licensing Program [GLP] indicated that the more supervised learning time the better. So, starting April 1st, 2007, new drivers completing formal driver training are no longer eligible for a three-month reduction from the standard Learner 12-month period. Instead, they are now eligible, if they also remain violation and at-fault crash free, for a six-month reduction from the standard Novice 24-month period.

As Road Rules has previously noted, while details of the programs vary, most Canadian
provinces and US states have GLPs, and most GLPs acknowledge benefit from formal driver training. Imagine the surprise, therefore, when Ontario’s auditor general reported in early December 2007 that new drivers trained in government approved driving schools had more crashes than untrained drivers. The report cited the following statistics: approximately 55 per cent of Ontario’s new drivers took driving school programs and 6.8 per cent of these students were involved in collisions in 2005, compared with 4.2 per cent in the group without driving school training. The report also noted that this difference in collision rates between these two groups had increased 62 per cent in 2005 from 24 per cent in 2000. The “why” had not been investigated by Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, and the report commented, “The statistic was alarming enough that the ministry should have looked at it.”
 
This wasn’t the only bad news. The audit also found that 6.5 per cent of Ontario’s driving instructors had accumulated demerit points for speeding, failing to use a seat belt and disobeying traffic signs compared to a 1.4 per cent rate for the general population. In quick response, the Ontario government announced new licensing requirements for driving instructors—no demerit points on their driving record and no Criminal Code convictions—and a new monitoring and audit program, in which ‘undercover shoppers’ will visit driving schools to ensure standards are being met.
 
Commentators have noted that the higher crash rate statistics may not tell the whole story. The majority of driving schools are located in major urban centres where, because of traffic density, the chance of crashing is significantly greater. Also the rate of accidents per 100,000 km for trained and untrained drivers is not broken out. Generally, higher crash rates are directly related to more kilometers driven. Trained new drivers may simply drive more. Fair enough. What if, though, formal training is simply aimed at passing the test and that test standards are too low? And what if this is also true here?
 
Driver education and licensing is a critically important component of driving safety. How many drivers want to learn as much as possible about the most dangerous daily task they perform? As one commentator said, stating what was obvious in the discussion surrounding the Ontario report, “If we are serious about saving lives on our roads we must better educate our drivers.”
 

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