Graduated Driver Licensing: Results from the U.S. and Other Countries
Although licensing practices vary from state to state, a number of states have adopted components of a graduated driver licensing system, and those that have completed evaluations have seen positive results. Here are three states that have evaluated the effect of their program on teen crashes and traffic convictions.
In 1979, Maryland became the first state to adopt some of the features of a model graduated driver licensing program. Evaluation was built into the process so the state could determine whether or not the new techniques would reduce the incidence of crashes and convictions (as well as subsequent injuries and deaths) among teen drivers.
Maryland emphasized parental participation, successful completion of driver education, restricted nighttime hours, and crash-free/conviction-free driving for six months before getting a full license (or wait until age 18). The minimum age for a learner's permit was 15 years and nine months, while 16 and one month was the minimum for a provisional license.
The findings of this project, published in 1983, showed a five percent reduction in crashes and a ten percent reduction in convictions for all 16- and 17-year-old drivers (however, only about half of that population was actually participating in the program, so the actual effectiveness of the program in terms of reduced crashes and convictions may have been higher). A later study reported continued success with the program, which was still producing a five percent reduction in daytime crashes and a ten-percent reduction in daytime violations.
The state has since extended the learner's permit period, lengthened the period of conviction-free driving from six months to one year, increased thenighttime driving restrictions and improved controls on novice drivers with poor driving performance.
California launched a graduated driver licensing program in 1983 and evaluated its effect on 16- and 17-year-olds. Like Maryland, California emphasized parental involvement. Although teens could get a learner's permit at age 15, they could not get a provisional license until age 16 or a full adult license until age 17. Both driver education and driver training were required, and parents had to certify that the student had the required hours of driving practice.
After five years, a report issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles found that the licensing system contributed to a 5.3 percent reduction in the rate of crashes involving drivers age 15-17.
Since that time, California has adopted a stronger, more effective graduated licensing program that includes a requirement of 50 hours of supervised practice driving, including 10 hours of nighttime driving, during the intermediate license stage.
Oregon's provisional licensing system took effect in 1989. It allowed students to get a learner's permit at 15, a provisional license at 16 and a full license at 18. Oregon put great emphasis on alcohol, implementing both administrative suspension for any measurable amount of alcohol for anyone under 21, and requiring a minimum one-year suspension for anyone under the age of 18 convicted of any alcohol or drug offense or any other major traffic violation.
Oregon's program was particularly effective with young male drivers (ages 16 and 17), who had approximately 16 percent fewer crashes than non-provisionally licensed male drivers during the first year of driving. No significant difference was found for female drivers. The results were reported in 1991.
In addition to the three states profiled above, evaluation studies are currently under way in Florida, Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is evaluating Florida's program and preliminary information from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles looks quite positive. Reports on these evaluation efforts will be made available as they are completed over the next several years.
Experiences in Other Countries
A 1992 report showed an eight percent reduction in the proportion of crashes involving drivers who were 15-19 years old.
Ontario's graduated licensing system became effective April 1, 1994. It requires a minimum of 12 months for the Level One Class G license (the equivalent of a learner's permit) or a minimum of eight months if the applicant successfully completes an approved driver education course. It requires a licensed driver with at least four years' experience to be present in the car and limits nighttime and freeway driving. The Level Two Class G license (the equivalent of a provisional license) is held for a minimum of 12 months and, like the Level One, has a zero alcohol tolerance policy, a seat belt requirement for all passengers and early improvement interventions for violations.
Preliminary study results published in May 1998 show that the Ontario system has been tremendously successful in reducing crashes and fatalities among new drivers. The crash rate for drivers age 16-19 declined 27 percent in 1995 compared to 1993, the year before the law was implemented.
Before Ontario's graduated licensing system was in place, 16-year-olds had both a crash rate and crash fatality rate about three times that of the general public. Since graduated licensing took effect, the fatal crash rate of 16-year-olds is comparable to that of the general public. And, since 1995, the overall crash rate for 16-year-olds is lower than that of the general population.
The decrease in the fatal crash rate for 16-year-old drivers is especially dramatic: there were 1.8 such deaths per 10,000 licensed drivers in 1995 compared to 6.6 in 1993, the year before the law.