Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

SJR 378: Joint Subcommittee to Study Revision of the Curriculum for Driver Training Programs

June 26, 2007

Senate Joint Resolution 378 established a joint subcommittee to study revision of the curriculum for driver training programs. The joint subcommittee held its first meeting in Richmond with the resolution's patron, Senator Jay O'Brien, as acting chair and Delegate Matt Lohr as acting vice-chairman. Other study members include Senators Louise Lucas and Jeannemarie Devolites Davis and Delegates Charles Carrico, Salvatore Iaquinto, Jeion Ward, and Dan Bowling.

Staff presented an overview of the mandates of the study. The joint subcommittee is charged with evaluating the curriculum used by school-based and commercial driving schools; surveying other states to identify innovative approaches to driver training; and considering the appropriateness of the curriculum for new adult drivers, especially those for whom English is a second language. The resolution also specifies that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Education are to provide technical assistance to the joint subcommittee.


Driver's License Requirements and Commercial Driving School Licensing Requirements
Ms. Karen Grim, Assistant Commissioner of Driver, Vehicle, and Data Management for DMV, provided the joint subcommittee members with an overview of Virginia's current driver's license requirements and licensing requirements for commercial driving schools operating in the Commonwealth. A juvenile applicant is eligible for a learner's permit at 15 years and 6 months. The learner's permit must be held for nine months before a provisional driver's license may be issued. While driving with a learner's permit, the juvenile must complete a driver's education course. In addition, a juvenile must drive at least 40 hours with supervision and pass a driving test in order to receive a provisional license.

Ms. Grim described the licensing requirements for commercial driving schools that provide the required education course for those drivers choosing not to participate in the school-based program. She informed the subcommittee that the commercial course content is identical to the curriculum followed by the school divisions.

During the 2005-2006 school year, 39% of students completing a driver's education course utilized the commercial driving schools. There are currently 72 licensed commercial driving schools in Virginia and 500 instructors licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Current regulations governing commercial driving schools have been in place since 1993, but new regulations for commercial driving schools should be in place in the next couple of months with strengthened oversight and sanctions for schools not following regulations.

Ms. Grim briefly described statutory licensing requirements for the commercial schools and the instructors, including a pre-licensing audit and an annual auditing requirement to ensure that facilities and vehicles meet statutory and regulatory requirements.

The members requested that DMV consider any changes needed in training or curriculum, including whether the driving age in Virginia should be raised and any other recommendations needed to address the safety of teen drivers in the Commonwealth.

Driver Education Curriculum
Ms. Vanessa Wigand, Principal Specialist for Driver Education, Health Education, and Physical Education at the DOE provided the members with an extensive overview of the current driver education curriculum, including the standards of learning and the "Curriculum and Administrative Guide for Driver Education in Virginia," which prescribes the content of a state-approved driver education program.

The curriculum is divided into 11 modules and provides lesson plans so that students may learn what the standards require them to know. The different modules include licensing responsibilities, driver responsibilities, basic maneuvering tasks, information processing, driver performance, vehicle functions, and behind-the-wheel and in-car observation. The curriculum guide is set for revision in 2008.

Ms. Wigand explained that approximately 90% of localities offer the minimum 45-hour course in driver education. The remaining 10% of localities offer a 90-hour course. She noted that based on crash data there is no appreciable difference with respect to number of accidents in localities offering a 90-hour with those offering a 45-hour course. There was some discussion of the crash data as a whole and the joint subcommittee learned that when the crash rate is particularly high in a certain locality, an informal inquiry is conducted by the Department of Education. Historically, findings suggest that in a locality with a high crash rate, there was too much time spent on the driving range and not enough time on the actual road.

National Perspective
Ms. Danielle Roeber of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spoke to the members with a national perspective. The NTSB is the agency that investigates crashes in order to reduce fatalities and prevent the crashes from happening again. It held a driver's education forum in 2003 and found that all forum participants (including public schools and commercial driving schools) claimed that education has some level of success in reducing teen crashes, but that no group has identified or evaluated a best practice. She informed the members that some states have no driver's education requirement, or if there is a requirement, there is no uniform curriculum in place. As a result of the NTSB forum in 2003, it was recommended that the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and DOE study what states are teaching driver education and how they are teaching it, and come up with best practices or a model program. Ms. Roeber stated that NHTSA completed a report at the end of 2006, but that it was not available yet. She concluded that it has not been proven that driver education is effective, but it seems clear that teen drivers remain disproportionately involved in crashes, indicating a need for a best practices recommendation.

Public Comment
During the public comment period, a member of law enforcement spoke, who indicated that parental involvement is paramount for young drivers. Additionally, a commercial driving school operator stated that the auditing of commercial driving schools conducted by DMV is very important.

Next Meeting
The joint subcommittee plans to have two more meetings during the 2007 interim. The next meeting will be held in early September after Labor Day and a final meeting will be held sometime after the election in November.

The Hon. Jay O'Brien

For information, contact:
Nikki Seeds, DLS Staff


Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

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