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.
Graduated driver licensing programs are 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. 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).
The CDC's Public Health Law Program has completed a 50-state survey of Graduated Drivers Licensing. This is a compilation of public domain, web-based information and resources that provides links to the science, policy, and legal strategies state jurisdictions, federal agencies, and interested organizations use to reduce teenage driver deaths and crashes by implementing graduated driver license laws.
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
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.
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 p.m. 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.
See the CDC's Public Health Law Program’s Compedium