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Graduated Driver Licensing

Introduction

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States (reported in WISQARS). Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than older drivers to be in a fatal crash. Graduated driver licensing programs (GDL) have consistently proven to be effective at reducing the crash risk for beginning drivers, including teens. GDL addresses the high crash risks that new drivers face by allowing them to get their initial driving experience under low-risk conditions through restrictions that are enforceable by law. GDL has three stages, beginning with a fully supervised learning period, followed by an intermediate stage that allows independent driving with some restrictions on high-risk driving conditions, , and concluding with unrestricted, full driving privileges.

Although GDL programs vary from state to state, they generally include seven main components:

  • Minimum age to obtain a learner permit
  • Mandatory holding period for the learner permit
  • Minimum number of hours of supervised driving during the learner permit stage—both daytime and nighttime
  • Minimum age to obtain an intermediate license
  • Nighttime driving restrictions during the intermediate stage
  • Passenger restrictions during the intermediate stage
  • Minimum age for full licensing

Some states have applied additional restrictions on young drivers, including

  • Cell phone bans
  • Texting bans
  • Seat belt requirements
  • Zero tolerance for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Stronger penalties for offenses that during the intermediate stage
  • Minimum standards for driver education

Teen Driving Risks and GDL Laws

GDL is a legal response to an important public health problem—fatal teen crashes.

  • Nearly 3,000 teens aged 15–19 years died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010, and nearly 400,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries.
  • Motor vehicle crashes kill more teenagers than any other cause and account for more than one in three deaths in this age group.
  • Per mile driven, teen drivers aged 16–19 years are nearly three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than older drivers.
  • Young people aged 15–24 years represent 14% of the US population but incur approximately 30% of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries (about $26 billion per year), according to the latest available economic data (2006).

Studies show that graduated driver licensing significantly decreases the risk of fatal teen crashes among 16- to 17-year-old drivers. Research funded by the National Institutes of Health found that the most effective legislation had at least five of the following seven key elements:

  • A minimum age of 16 for a learner's permit
  • A mandatory waiting period of at least six months before a driver can apply for an intermediate license
  • A requirement for 50 to 100 hours of supervised driving before testing for an intermediate license
  • A minimum age of 17 for an intermediate license
  • Restrictions on nighttime driving
  • A limit on the number of teenaged passengers allowed in the car
  • A minimum age of 18 for a full license

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some form of GDL program. However, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, if every state adopted the strictest limitations related to five components, the nation would reduce the number of crashes each year by more than 9,500 and save more than 500 lives.

As of 2012, best practices for state GDL laws include a minimum learner’s permit age of 16 (eight states and DC), minimum intermediate license age of 17 (New Jersey), at least 65 supervised driving hours (Pennsylvania), night driving restrictions beginning at 8 pm while in the intermediate stage (, South Carolina), and no passengers while in the intermediate stage (15 states and DC). No state requires a teenager to wait until age 18 for an unrestricted driver’s license.

Resources

Selected Science and Data Resources

CDC

CDC Teen Driving Data and Statistics
Data and statistics about teen driving, including information about fatal teen crashes and teen seatbelt use

Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet
Referenced web-based resource describing teenage driver risks and strategies to prevent injuries from crashes

Parents Are the Key
CDC campaign to offer parents tools and proven steps to reduce teen driving injuries and deaths

Drivers Aged 16 or 17 Years Involved in Fatal Crashes—United States, 2004–2008

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute

Fatality Facts: Teenagers
Archived trend data from 2005–2010 describing characteristics associated with teenage driver and passenger fatalities

Licensing Systems for Young Drivers
Summarizes US GDL laws with maps showing minimum ages for unrestricted licenses, nighttime driving, and passenger restrictions
 

National Institutes of Health

NIH News: Graduated Drivers Licensing Programs Reduce Fatal Teen Crashes (November 2011)
Reports NIH studies demonstrate nighttime driving and passenger restrictions reduce teenage driving deaths

Journal of the American Medical Association

Strengthening Driver Licensing Systems for Teenaged Drivers (2011, McCartt and Teoh)
Documents large declines in crash rates for 15-year-olds (69%), 16-year-olds (68%), and 17-year-olds (53%) as states adopted graduated driver licensing statutes. Although overall crash rates have declined 20–40% in states that have adopted graduated drivers licensing, the study shows that police-reported crash rates for 16- to 19-year-old drivers is almost four times higher than older drivers.

Graduated Driver Licensing and Fatal Crashes Involving 16- to 19-Year-Old Drivers (2011, Masten, Foss & Marshall)
A study that found similar results for younger beginning drivers, but for drivers 18 and 19 years old did not demonstrate like benefits. The article’s controversial findings in the 18- to 19-year-old population received comment from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

United States Department of Transportation

National Evaluation of Graduated Driver Licensing Programs
Researched which types of GDL programs are associated with reductions in fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers. The authors concluded that GDL programs reduce 16-year-old drivers’ fatal crash rates by almost 20%.

Based on the existing statutes at the time of the study, the greatest benefit appeared to be in programs that included

  • Minimum age requirements to obtain learner's permit
  • A waiting period before allowing teen drivers to enter the intermediate license stage
  • Nighttime driving restrictions
  • Passenger restrictions
  • A minimum number of supervised driving hours

National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)

FARS System
The nation’s database on motor vehicle crashes that result in fatalities

Governors Highway Safety Association

Teenage Driver Fatalities by State: 2011 Preliminary Data [PDF - 143KB]

Indicates that the number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths in passenger vehicles has increased nearly 11% between the first six months in 2010 in the first six months in 2011. If the trend continues, it will mark the first reversal of long-standing yearly declines in teen driver deaths since GDL laws have been implemented.

Policy Resources

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Young Driver Licensing Systems in the US
Describes young driver license systems in the US and links to descriptions for each stage of the GDL

Q&A: Teenagers: Graduated Driver Licensing
A referenced resource on GDL policy in the US

GDL Calculator
Uses research results to show how a state may change its current statute to improve fatal crash rates among young drivers. The calculator demonstrates that if every state adopted five of the seven GDL provisions into law, the result would be an additional 500 lives saved and more than 9,500 crashes prevented each year.

Governors Highway Safety Association

Teen Drivers
Discusses graduated driver licensing and the importance of parent involvement

Protecting Teen Drivers: A Guidebook for State Highway Safety Offices (2010)
Examines six strategies state highway safety offices can use to promote safe teen driving

National Conference of State Legislatures

Issue Brief: Teen Driving: Graduated Driver's Licenses and More [PDF - 143KB] (2011)
Summarizes federal action, state action, and trends in state legislatures to modify existing statutes

Laws and Legal Authorities

Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act (STANDUP Act)

Bill introduced by the US Senate in 2011 that creates an incentive program for states to adopt GDL laws with minimum requirements, including

  • Sixteen as the minimum age for a learner’s permit
  • A minimum of 40 hours of mandatory supervised driving during the learner’s permit
  • An intermediate driver’s license stage lasting at least six months
  • A nighttime driving restriction
  • Cell phone and texting restrictions
  • Passenger restrictions

H.R. 1515: Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act of 2011
US House of Representatives bill, similar to the STANDUP Act

Governor’s Highway Safety Association

Graduated Driver Licensing Laws
Chart showing selected provisions for each state, including

  • Minimum age to obtain a learner’s permit
  • Minimum duration to maintain the learner’s permit
  • Required number of supervised driving hours, including night hours, while driving with a learner’s permit
  • Minimum age to obtain an intermediate stage license
  • Hours of the nighttime driving restriction
  • Passenger restrictions
  • Minimum age to acquire full driving privileges

Interactive US Map
Summarizes each state’s highway safety laws

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

State GDL Provisions (May 2012)
Contains US maps providing state specific data for GDL provisions including

Selected State GDL Laws

States vary dramatically in the provisions that make up GDL laws. The following links are statutory language from selected states that have provisions shown by the science and supported by policy makers to have a demonstrated positive effect on reducing the number of deaths associated with teenage beginning drivers.

Licensing Age
Only New Jersey (see 39:3-13.4 Probationary driver’s license) has a minimum licensing age of 17 to obtain a driver’s license. Other states require only a mandatory waiting period to receive an intermediate license, thus allowing some drivers to receive an intermediate license as early as 16 years old (see Maine’s six month provision (Title 29, Chapter 11, Subchapter 2, Section 1304 1A and 1H)).

Learner’s Permit
In Kansas you can obtain a learner’s permit at 14, while the strictest provision shared by nine states, including Kentucky [PDF - 13KB], is 16.

Supervised Driving
Pennsylvania sets the strictest standard for supervised driving with a learner’s permit, 65 practice hours [PDF - 178KB], 10 of which must be at night and 5 of which must be in inclement weather (Section 1505(e)). Most states require between 40–50 hours of supervised instruction, but four states (including Arkansas) do not require any supervised driving hours during the learner’s permit period.

Nighttime Driving
Idaho has the strictest nighttime driving restriction, which restricts teenage drivers with an intermediate license to daylight hours only.

Passengers
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia do not allow teenage passengers in the car until a teenage driver has obtained an unrestricted license.


Disclaimer: Information available on this website that was not developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not necessarily represent any CDC policy, position, or endorsement of that information or of its sources. The information contained on this website is not legal advice; if you have questions about a specific law or its application you should consult your legal counsel.

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