From practice driving with safety cones in the high school parking lot to commercial programs, states offer a variety of training options for first-time drivers.
But state requirements for driver’s education—how much classroom work or hours spent driving with an instructor is needed; whether simulations or online programs are allowed; and how an education program fits into broader age-based requirements for a license—differ widely from state to state.
Nearly 4 percent of all U.S. drivers—more than 8.3 million people—are under 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s what driver’s education looks like—and what experts say students need—across the states.
A few states, such as Florida, specifically require students to take coursework on the effects of driving while intoxicated. As of the most recent federal data in 2020, 29 percent of drivers 15 to 20 years old who were killed in crashes had detectable blood alcohol levels at the time of the crash.
Driving practice can vary a lot
Every state and Washington, D.C., now have some form of graduated driver’s licensing, in which young drivers of different ages and experience levels qualify for licenses that may restrict the time of day they can drive or whether they can drive with adults or peers as passengers.
Yet studies find that regardless of how old a teenager is when he or she starts driving, new drivers are eight times more likely to crash or have a close call in the first three months after getting a license than during their last three months on a learner’s permit. And states vary significantly in how much student drivers are expected to practice under supervision.
For example, Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Jersey require no supervised driving, while Oregon can require up to 100 hours. Kansas and North Dakota require more hours for drivers under age 16. And several states, including Alabama and Arizona, allow learner-drivers to waive supervised driving if they have taken a driver’s education class.
Experts are beginning to argue that states should include specific driving skills in the content taught in driver’s education curriculums.
“If you think about what driver training is, when you do the coursework that we all took to get our licenses, you’re often just getting a lot of information thrown at you,” related to laws, reading road information like speed limits, and so on, said Jeffery Epstein, a pediatric psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who studies driver’s training. “The skills of driving [like attention and reaction time] you often pick up as you go and things become more automatic as you keep driving.”
Road safety goes beyond the vehicle
A third of all pedestrian victims from motor vehicles are under age 16.
The NHTSA recommends that schools teach some form of pedestrian and bicycle safety in K-12, including cautions about walking near traffic, crossing streets and intersections, safely maneuvering in parking lots, and safety at school bus stops and on buses.
However, there is no consensus in state laws on when and how schools should include road safety for nondriving students. The content may be included in health or social studies units, or even in extracurricular activities such as scouting programs.