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Teens Behind the Wheel: Graduated Driver Licensing

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group. In 2005, 4,544 teens ages 16 to 19 died of injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes.² The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among drivers in this age group than among drivers of other ages. Per mile driven, drivers ages 16-19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.³ Add to this, in 2002, the estimated economic cost of police-reported crashes (fatal and nonfatal) involving drivers ages 15 to 20 was $40.8 billion.4 However, there are proven methods for helping teens to become safer drivers. Research suggests that the most strict and comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and non–fatal injury crashes, respectively, of 16–year–old drivers.¹

How Do Teens Safely Gain Driving Experience?

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems address the high risks new drivers face by allowing them to get their initial driving experience under low–risk conditions. CDC's Injury Center supported research leading to several publications on the topics of young drivers and GDL:

  • Lin ML, editor. Novice teen driving: GDL and beyond–research foundations for policy and practice symposium. Journal of Safety Research 2007;38(special issue):129–259.
  • Lin ML, editor. Graduated driver licensing. Journal of Safety Research 2003;34(special issue):1–126.
  • Simons-Morton B, Hartos J, editors. Reducing young driver crash risk: Proceedings of an expert conference on young drivers. Injury Prevention 2002;8(Suppl II):ii1–ii38.
  • Annual updates of teen driver research:
    • Hedlund J, Shults RA, Compton R. Graduated driver licensing and teenage driver research in 2006. Journal of Safety Research 2006;37:107–121.
    • Hedlund J, Compton R. Graduated driver licensing research in 2004 and 2005. Journal of Safety Research 2005;36:109–119.
    • Hedlund J, Shults RA, Compton R. What we know, what we don't know, and what we need to know about graduated driver licensing. Journal of Safety Research 2003;34:107–15.

Parents and guardians can use the basic principles of GDL to help teen drivers gain experience under low-risk conditions. Read the National Safety Council's Teen Driver: A Family Guide to Teen Driver Safety for helpful tips and suggestions.

CDC Facts, Activities, and Research

Online Resources


1. Baker SP, Chen L, Li G. Nationwide review of graduated driver licensing. Washington (DC): AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety; 2007.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web–based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2008). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). Available from: URL: [Cited 2008 March 25].

3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts: teenagers 2005. Arlington (VA): The Institute; 2006 [cited 2006 Dec 1]. Available from: URL

4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Dept. of Transportation (US). Traffic safety facts 2002: young drivers. Washington (DC): NHTSA; 2003 [cited 2003 Nov 13].

Almost half of all black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children who died in crashes were not buckled up (2009-2010).
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