Fatal crashes down for young drivers

Sep 7, 2007

A Kettering faculty member worked with the State of Michigan to help prepare teens for the road and reduce the loss of young lives.

A new driver education curriculum, testing and instructor-training requirements are being implemented to better prepare teens for the road, an effort that was announced Sept. 6 by Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. The program was developed using recommendations from a committee chaired by Dr. Jacqueline El-Sayed, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University.

The number of 16- and 17-year-old Michigan drivers involved in fatal crashes dropped from 80 in 2004 to 51 in 2006, yet teens are still disproportionately involved in crashes compared to other age groups. Young drivers are at higher risk primarily due to their failure to appropriately recognize hazards, control the vehicle and manage speed or spacing on the road.

"The most dangerous time for 16- and 17-year-olds is the first six months that they drive unsupervised," Land said. "Michigan is the only state in the nation to offer two segments of driver education with a three-tiered graduated licensing system to help teens become more comfortable behind the wheel. Research has shown that Michigan's Graduated Driver Licensing system has had a significant impact on reducing crash rates among young teen drivers.

"We're continuing to build upon those successes with these latest changes, which will ensure that our driver education teachers are prepared with the most up-to-date curriculum and testing strategies available. By placing more emphasis on the development of critical driving skills, we are helping our children become safer, more responsible drivers."

A coalition of driver education stakeholders, under the direction of the Department of State, met in 2005 to review and evaluate Michigan's driver education program. The 94 recommendations that resulted from the Driver Education Advisory Committee's work formed the foundation of the Driver Education Provider and Instructor Act, which took effect Oct. 1, 2006.

"The committee's recommendations were developed to ensure consistency in objectives, curriculum, program requirements and instructor qualifications," said El-Sayed, who also serves on the Michigan Truck Safety Commission. "Central to all of our discussions was the goal of keeping young drivers safe on the road."

The new law stipulates that the state use a model curriculum. The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association's nationally recognized curriculum was chosen as Michigan's prescribed curriculum.

The ADTSEA curriculum focuses on developing skills most critical to safe driving in situations where young drivers are at highest risk, rather than on a broad range of knowledge and skills in a relatively superficial manner. AAA Michigan provided the $50,000 needed to purchase the curriculum, which is now ready for distribution to each of the state's driver education providers.

"AAA has a long heritage of traffic safety advocacy, especially in the area of teen driving," said Jack Peet, AAA Michigan Community Safety Services manager. "We are pleased to assist the Department of State in providing this important curriculum to the state's driver education providers."

To ensure that driver education courses are taught consistently throughout the state, about 2,000 certified instructors must be trained in how to use the new curriculum. Half-day workshops will be presented around the state beginning in October.

The new law also requires students to pass a knowledge test during Segment 2 of driver education. Currently, a knowledge test is only required in Segment 1. The knowledge tests for both segments will be computer generated to improve the integrity of the testing system.

Michigan has about 420 certified driver education providers that offer driver education for teens under age 18, with public schools comprising about half of them. More than 100,000 students enroll each year in Segments 1 and 2.

Land stressed that even with the improvements to driver education, the most potent force for safety in a young driver's life remains his or her parents. To assist parents, the department provides a sample driving contract on its Web site at www.Michigan.gov/sos that may be used to define a teen's responsibilities and privileges when driving.

"It is critical for parents to provide a safe-driving role model for their children and to continue to monitor their young teen's driving behaviors even after a Level 2 or Level 3 license is issued," Land said. "Learning how to identify and manage risks behind the wheel is key to keeping them safe."