Saving Teenage Lives






















Graduated driver licensing has been shown to be effective by:

Expanding the learning process;

Reducing risk exposure;

Improving driving proficiency; and

Enhancing motivation for safe driving.














































Driving is a skill that improves with time and maturity.

Section III

How Graduated Driver Licensing is Effective

Addressing the Problems

Young novice drivers are a highway safety problem for many reasons, primarily a combination of immaturity, inexperience and high-risk driving exposure. This is true for teenagers everywhere, but it is a particular problem in the United States, where more teenagers have cars or have access to a family car than in any other nation. Teenagers are also more likely to drive older and smaller cars, are less likely to wear seat belts, and are more likely to have multiple teenage passengers.

Traditional approaches­high school driver education, a learner's permit and perhaps stepped up penalties for infractions­have not had as great an impact on reducing the incidence of teen crashes and convictions as anticipated. In fact, there is some evidence that early driver education classes may encourage younger licensure, thereby increasing risk exposure.

On the other hand, graduated driver licensing has been shown to be effective by:

  • Expanding the learning process;
  • Reducing risk exposure;
  • Improving driving proficiency; and
  • Enhancing motivation for safe driving.

Let's look at each of these four benefits.

Expanding the learning process

Graduated driver licensing lengthens the learning process. The longer the period of time that elapses between issuance of the first permit to the full, unrestricted license, the more maturity and experience the novice driver will accumulate and the better his or her driving performance will be. The learning experience for driving cannot be rushed. As with any complex task, it takes time to assimilate the skills and information needed to perform the job adequately.

Reducing risk exposure

Graduated driver licensing allows young drivers to gain much-needed driving experience in controlled, lower risk circumstances, such as nighttime driving restrictions, passenger limitations, required restraint use for all occupants, and license sanctions that kick in at a lower threshold (e.g., first conviction for a serious violation).

These exposure-reducing components work in two ways. First, they catch young drivers early when they make mistakes or errors in judgment and allow correction. Second, they serve as a motivating factor for teens to study for tests, drive safely and avoid risks in the first place.

Percentage of Fatal Crashes With Various Characteristics, by Driver Age, 1993

 Driver Age





 Single Vehicle




 Driver Error








 3+ Occupants




0.10+ Percent BAC*




 Female Driver




 *BAC=Blood Alcohol Concentration. In most states, 0.10 percent is the legal BAC threshold.
 Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (Status Report ­ December 17, 1994)

Improving driving proficiency

Placing limits on teen mobility may reduce driving exposure, but driving proficiency can be improved through measures that emphasize getting teens behind the wheel to practice. These components encourage the intermediate licensee to make safe driving decisions while driving to reduce risk. They include: multi-level instruction coupled with multi-level testing (giving inexperienced drivers the opportunity to first learn then practice the basics before moving on to learning and practicing more advanced skills); parental guidance; driver improvement courses; and delayed re-testing after failure.

Enhancing motivation for safe driving

Graduated driver licensing not only helps the novice driver better cope with risks, but also enhances the motivation to drive safely and "play by the rules." Restrictions are lifted as rewards for good driving, and sanctions are imposed for violations. For young drivers, the worst sanction may be the delay that keeps them in an earlier stage longer, while their peers advance to the next level. By making relief from restrictions contingent upon a good driving record, graduated driver licensing provides incentive to drive safely.

How the Community Can Promote Graduated Driver Licensing

Everyone has a role to play in promoting graduated driver licensing and helping it succeed. Here are just a few examples:


Parents or guardians are essential. While no system should put all the burden on parents, a graduated driver licensing system emphasizes parental supervision (e.g., providing driving practice, determining when and where driving is done, etc.) and parental certification that practice hours have been completed as required. Graduated driver licensing encourages parents to actively take part in preparing their teenagers for driving. It provides an opportunity for parents to serve as positive role models for their children.

Traffic Safety Education Field ­

Driver education works better with a graduated driver licensing system, which provides an incentive for formal instruction. The current high school driver education system can be adapted to fit well within a graduated driver licensing system. This would require the course to be divided into two or three discrete phases, with practice sessions and testing at the end of each segment.

Modern communications tools such as home video and interactive computer learning materials can supplant or augment classroom training prior to behind-the-wheel practice. Training programs and materials should not focus on how to pass the test but rather how to incorporate the appropriate skills, attitude and behavior to be

a safe, successful driver. Such a program should also include information on other aspects of transportation safety, such as pedestrian safety, bicycle safety, the need for occupant protection, and the importance of motorcycle helmets. Programs should also cover transportation issues such as alternate transport, trip planning and vehicle preparation and actions to take in an emergency. And, where there is a choice, teens should be encouraged to drive safer vehicles.

Medical Community­

The medical community sees firsthand the results of motor vehicle crashes. Most physicians, nurses, emergency medical service professionals and others will tell you that the hardest part of their job is telling a family about the loss of a child or other family member. Although implementation of a graduated driver licensing process does not directly involve the medical community, these individuals (as well as their state and national professional organizations) are likely to be strong allies and partners in the process.

Law Enforcement ­

Nearly every national law enforcement group has endorsed graduated driver licensing because police officers­like the medical community­are the ones who see the results of poor driving every day. Law enforcement has an active role to play in the implementation of a new system, and keeping traffic officers informed about changes in laws is a vital step. Law enforcement officers are also highly effective speakers at high school assemblies, Scout meetings, and other youth group gatherings.

Questions and Answers On Graduated Driver Licensing

Does graduated licensing discriminate against teenagers?

No. On the contrary, graduated driver licensing protects teenagers by introducing beginning drivers to the driving process under controlled circumstances in a low-risk manner. Just as teens are not allowed to conduct certain work, legal or financial transactions without direct parental involvement, they should not be allowed to drive until they have learned how to do it safely.

How can teens get around to school, jobs and extracurricular activities?

There is no question that, for safety's sake, graduated driver licensing limits mobility for younger teens. This is true especially at night (the most dangerous time), but most states allow exceptions in the case of driving to school or work or for farm-related activities.

Delaying full licensure does not significantly hinder extracurricular and social activities, however. A survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety of more than 50,000 high school students in seven states found that the social life and work patterns of 16-year-olds were generally unaffected by the beginning driving age in their state.

Is driver education the best way to learn to drive?

A good program that combines both classroom learning and behind-the-wheel training is an effective way to learn basic driving skills. But most driver education programs do not allow for significant hours of practice driving, and that is what new drivers need. Driving is a skill that improves with time and maturity. A 1994 Report to Congress by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that "current novice driver education is not doing a very good job in motivating youngsters to drive safely." A graduated driver licensing system rewards good driving by allowing the safe novice driver to move ahead to the next step.

Aren't parents anxious for their teens to drive so they don't have to be the "chauffeur"?

Parents face a real dilemma when it comes to teen driving. On the one hand, most are quite anxious to give up the "chauffeur" duties and let their teens handle their own transportation. On the other hand, they are fearful of the increased risks this brings. Parents strongly support

graduated driver licensing, despite some minor inconveniences to themselves. More importantly, graduated driver licensing gets parents more involved by asking them to ensure their children get enough supervised driving practice. The longer period of supervised driving gives parents and teens plenty of opportunity not only to practice but also to discuss driving skills, attitudes and behaviors. Parents also may feel more secure once their teens are fully licensed because they have more experience and maturity to handle difficult situations on the road.