#473 Disparities in Access to Driver Education for Teens as a Health and Mobility Equity Issue

Principal Investigator
Megan Ryerson
Overdue Project
Start Date
July 1, 2023
End Date
June 30, 2024
Project Type
Research Applied
Grant Program
US DOT BIL, Safety21, 2023 - 2028 (4811)
Grant Cycle
Safety21 : 23-24


Teens who complete behind-the-wheel (BTW) driver education (DE) are able to secure early licensure and are less likely to crash in their early years as a motorist. Disparities in accessibility to BTW DE are therefore disparities in health outcomes (crashes) and mobility (i.e., ability to secure early licensure). The following research grant is to support a stream of research focused on disparities in access to BTW DE, and therefore, safe driving skills and early licensure, for teens. Using inferential statistics and non-parametric statistical techniques, the team will identify economic, racial, and spatial disparities in accessibility to BTW DE by correlating individual data with propensity to engage in DE (Aim 1). Our team will further investigate the disparities in the acquisition of specific safe driving skills by linking individual data with VDA results (Aim 2). As disparities in accessibility to BTW DE are disparities in health outcomes and mobility, our research will uncover an actionable way forward to directly address healthy and mobility equity.
Our team has assembled a completely novel database of over 18,000 Ohio teens, which includes the following individual-level data: state licensing data, crash data, and DE completion data; household-level data matched with transportation urban planning-related open data; and results from the Virtual Driving Assessment (VDA), a virtual driving skills measurement test our broader team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia administers to learner drivers. Advanced spatial modeling techniques allow us to collect Socio-economic status data related to home address, and calculate impedance to the nearest DE center. 
Our project will investigate the following: 

Aim 1: Identify individual factors that are most strongly correlated with a teen engaging in BTW DE and early licensure. Our early findings at the census tract level tell us that average income is most correlated with a teen pursuing BTW training and early licensure; variables such as activity density and travel distance to BTW DE are also correlated, but more slightly. By matching home address with home value data, we assemble the data set that allows us to test the hypothesis directly that income is the strongest predictor of a teen engaging in BTW DE and pursuing early licensure. Moreover, we hypothesize that an individual’s race, as well as details related to the density of their neighborhood (i.e., the collocation of activities), is related to their propensity to engage in BTW DE/early licensure, with BTW DE completion being lower among minority teens. If our hypotheses are correct, it will showcase the deep disparities in who is most like to avoid a crash outcome and the mobility that comes with early licensure.
Aim 2: Identify individual factors that are most strongly correlated with specific acquisition of safe driving skills. Our team has proved the direct correlation between BTW training completion and reduced crash rates in teens; we aim now to correlate the acquisition of specific safe driving skills with the completion of BTW training. Our hypothesis is that teens who have completed BTW DE are both overall less risky drivers and have a stronger ability to scan for and respond to hazards/other road users. If our hypotheses are correct, it will showcase the criticality of training drivers from a public health perspective, for individual well-being and to reduce threats to all road users.
This project is a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania Department of City and Regional Planning, the Children Hospital of Philadelphia, and the State of Ohio Department of Public Safety.     


Strategic Description / RD&T
This project is a direct fit with Safety21 mission as it aims at improving the safe driving skills for young drivers, as well as making these safe driving skills more accessible to all teens. Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death in teens and study shows that the fatality rate/100,000 persons is 34% higher in the Black population compared to the white population. Therefore, identifying the policies and interventions that will most effectively reduce crashes, especially in minority communities, is a public health imperative of which Safety21 is deeply committed. Much scholarship is devoted to understanding why teen drivers crash at higher rates than older drivers; members of our team have made the groundbreaking discovery that teens who engage in BTW DE crash at lower rates. What remains unknown is the accessibility of BTW DE to teens, and disparities in this accessibility; this is the core of our research and a major contribution that is relevant to Safety21. As disparities in accessibility to BTW DE are disparities in health outcomes (crashes) and mobility (i.e., ability to secure early licensure), our research will uncover an actionable way forward to directly address healthy and mobility equity.
This project is also deeply related to Education, and can serve as an education project, as it is seeking to make driver training more accessible. 
Deployment Plan
1- Data collection, develop an analysis framework 
2- Execute analysis
3- Translate analysis into actionable policy modifications and outreach plans
4- Work closely with CHOP and their partners in state departments of Public Safety to implement and pilot such plans
Expected Outcomes/Impacts
Motor vehicle crashes are one of the most significant, and the most preventable, public health issues especially for children and teens. 
As our early findings negatively correlate income with BTW DE completion, it is likely that the cost and the challenge of physically transporting oneself to BTW DE is prohibitive. Thus, interventions which reduce BTW DE cost for lower-income teens (vouchers, etc.) and increase physical accessibility to BTW DE (subsidized pick-up service, Uber vouchers) should be analyzed for their ability to “move the needle” in getting teens to BTW DE. Our study provides the foundation upon which these studies – directly evaluating interventions and interacting with teens through mixed-methods research – will be built. 
Moreover, upon making these research findings, our team will assess the role of the VDA as a low-cost intervention that could be setup in schools, pediatric offices, etc. in imparting safe driving skills. The VDA could work in concert with BTW DE is a research direction that is both promising for making driving skills acquisition more accessible and very promising for funding (the PI plans to submit an NSF Civic application in Spring 2023). 
We will eventually branch out to investigate the correlation between citations for unlicensed drivers (which can trap people in a cycle of debt) and access to BTW DE. 
Expected Outputs
The anticipated outputs are 3 journal articles and novel datasets. 
A search of “driver training and equity” in the TRID database led to 23 references; a review of these references found only one related to access to driver training. The others are focused on, for example, effectiveness of driver education (interesting, but not the focus herein) or on a climate change scorecard for driver education. The relevant paper is written by the authors herein (Ryerson et al. 2022).  In this paper, the authors define driving training deserts and investigate their presence. 

Individuals Involved

Email Name Affiliation Role Position
mryerson@upenn.edu Ryerson, Megan University of Pennsylvania Department of City and Regional Planning PI Faculty - Tenured


Amount of UTC Funds Awarded
Total Project Budget (from all funding sources)


Type Name Uploaded
Data Management Plan Disparities_in_Access_to_Driver_Education_for_Teens_as_a_Health_and_Mobility_Equity_Issue.pdf Nov. 13, 2023, 8 a.m.

Match Sources

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Name Type
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Deployment Partner Deployment Partner
SEPTA Deployment & Equity Partner Deployment & Equity Partner
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation None