Amos Neyhart, a Penn State faculty member and longtime resident of State College, originated driver education programs in the United States. In 1933, he started teaching students at State College High School to drive. He later taught the first course instructing others how to teach driver education.
Neyhart (pronounced NIGH-hart) was born in South Williamsport on November 22, 1898. He earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering at Penn State in 1921. He subsequently worked as a production and safety engineer for Pilgrim Shirt Co. and Susquehanna Silk in Milton, Pennsylvania, before returning to Penn State in 1929 as an instructor in the Industrial Engineering Department.
Neyhart said that he got the idea to teach driver education while visiting his mother in Milton on Thanksgiving Day 1931 when a drunk driver hit his parked car. He believed that the frequency of traffic accidents was due, in part, to the lack of driver training. He thought driver training would prevent traffic accidents and improve highway safety.
At the time, automobiles of the 1930s did not have automatic transmissions, power steering and brakes, seat belts, and other safety features of today’s vehicles.
Neyhart taught students at State College High School to drive using both in-car and classroom instruction. Classroom instruction covered safety issues, as well as a basic knowledge of how the car operated and how to keep it running properly.
He paid his own expenses and used his own car, a 1929 Graham-Paige sedan, which he had outfitted with a rudimentary dual control system. During the second year, he was about to discontinue the program for lack of financial support when the State College Rotary Club provided the funds for it to continue.
In 1934, while at Penn State, Neyhart earned a master’s degree in psychology and education. His thesis was titled “The Relation of the Training and Other Characteristics of Automobile Drivers to Their Proneness to Accidents.” In it, he analyzed replies to a questionnaire regarding accidents, and discussed the methods used in teaching forty-one people to drive. His study showed that the type of teaching had a close relationship to safe driving.
That same year, Neyhart wrote The Safe Operation of an Automobile, the first textbook on driver education. The curriculum Neyhart developed called for forty-five hours of classroom instruction, twenty-four hours of in-car observation, and eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction.
In 1936, he joined the staff of the American Automobile Association in Washington, D.C., where he focused on safety issues. He returned to Penn State two years later to establish the university’s Institute of Public Safety.
Neyhart estimated that he taught more than 800 college professors and 20,000 high school teachers how to teach people how to drive. He also taught courses on driving for people with disabilities and on the effects of alcohol and drugs on driving.
He served on the President’s Committee on Traffic Safety under Presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. He received Pennsylvania’s Meritorious Medal, Pennsylvania’s highest civilian award. In 1988 he was inducted into the Safety and Health Hall of Fame International of National Safety Congress for his contributions to public safety.
Neyhart remained at Penn State until his retirement in 1964. In 1966, he was recognized by the Penn State Alumni Association as a Distinguished Alumnus. The Penn State Alumni Association erected a historic marker on campus commemorating Neyhart’s work teaching driver education. He died in State College on July 5, 1990, at the age of 91.
Fowler, Glen. “Amos Neyhart, 91; Originated Courses in Driver Education.” New York Times, July 13, 1990.
Lehman, Katey and Ross Lehman.“ Driver Training from the Start,” Centre Daily Times. November 16, 1962.
Peatman, John. “Drivers Education: Putting it in Gear.” Pennsylvania Center for the Book. https://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/literary-cultural-heritage-map-pa/feature-articles/drivers-education-putting-it-gear (Accessed February 18, 2022).
“Amos E. Neyhart,” Centre Daily Times, July 11, 1990.
First Published: March 3, 2022
Last Modified: May 17, 2022