Graduated Licensing: How It May Save Your Child's Life

One of the biggest milestones of the teenage years for many Americans is learning to drive and getting a driver’s license. Teen driving can be a high point, and for some, it can be a low point. According to State Farm, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teen fatalities. States now feature a graduated licensing program geared towards decreasing teen deaths.

What is Graduated Licensing?

Graduated Licensing is the process outlined in each state for a teenager to gradually gain the rights of a full license. Each state has laws regarding graduated licensing, and there are even variations on the age at which a driver must be to take the first step. The theory behind graduated licensing is that it allows drivers gain the skills, confidence, and wisdom to earn an unrestricted license gradually. AAA provides a state by state view of laws on graduating license.

Most states have a permit phase in which a driver must drive for a period with a parent or guardian. A second phase includes a restricted license, with restrictions often including number and age of passengers and restricting night driving.

What are the biggest risks for teenage drivers?

Significant risks include distracted driving and drinking and driving. But, some of the risks is born by simply being a new driver. State Farm has published studies that show that 40% of teen crashes are caused by lack of proper scanning while driving.
As teens drive more, they gain more knowledge about what they should be looking out for on the road and therefore develop better driving skills. Graduated licensing attempts to ensure every driver on the road has had a significant amount of driving experience before receiving an unrestricted driver’s license.

Distracted driving is a risk for every driver, but teens bear a greater risk because it is coupled with a lack of experience driving. Many states have laws which make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to use a cell phone at all while driving. And the restricted licenses which place restrictions on the number of passengers allowed are also geared at reducing distracted driving since a car full of friends is almost guaranteed to lead to distracted driving. State Farm recommends that teens get in the habit of not changing CDs while driving. It’s important for teens to remember that they are new drivers and need to focus on driving during the initial few years when they are building their driving skills.

Teen drinking and driving remains a significant risk. According to MADD, Teen alcohol use kills 4,700 people each year – more than all illegal drugs combined. MADD strongly advocates for the drinking age to remain 21 in the United States as teen drunk driving deaths have significantly decreased since the implementation of the law. One step every parent can take is to sit with their teen driver and read on the MADD website real-life cases of drinking and driving. Teenagers tend to feel indestructible, and it’s important for them to understand that death by drinking and driving is a very real risk, and it can happen to them and their friends. Many of the driver training classes that are required in graduated licensing programs cover in detail the risks associated with drinking and driving.

Graduated Licensing Programs Have Reduced Teen Crashes by 20% to 40%

Various studies have been done that have shown that since implementation, Graduated Licensing Programs have been highly effective at reducing teen crashes. The first program was implemented in Florida in 1996, and now all 50 states have a GDL program.

Anne McCart from the Insurance Highway Institute believes the parts of the GDL programs that carry the most impact are:

  • The permit age.
  • The driving age.
  • The amount of supervised driving during the learning stage.
  • A night-driving restriction during the intermediate stage.
  • Limiting teenage passengers.

Parents also play a significant role in safe driving. Even teenagers observe parent behaviors and behaviors like wearing (or not wearing) a seat belt and driving safely are often mimicked by new drivers. Studies have also shown that teens are safer drivers when they have parents who take an active role in their teen learning to drive and who are notified by car devices if a driver is driving without a seatbelt or speeding. Bottom line: GDL’s help, but parents still play a vital role.

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