Saving Teenage Lives

 

 

Section II

Traditional Driver Licensing vs. Graduated Driver Licensing

The Traditional Driver Licensing Process

Driver licensing is a function of state government. Each state has different rules and regulations, but the essential steps are similar. An individual applies to the Department of Motor Vehicles or other licensing agency for a driver license. He or she usually must pass a written knowledge test and a vision test before scheduling a road test with the driver license examiner. New drivers must demonstrate basic driving skills in a road test.

In 35 states, a learner's permit is required for novice drivers. Teens under 18 must have parental permission to apply for a learner's permit. Learner's permits automatically expire in all states except Virginia. The expiration ranges from 60 days to six years. Most states place only minimal limitations on driving with a learner's permit. For instance, only 19 have any limits on nighttime driving.1

A comprehensive evaluation of state driver licen-sing codes by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded that current driver licensing practices "allow a quick and easy route through the learning phase" and place too little emphasis on supervised practice and training.1 Most highway safety experts agree that it is too easy to get a driver license in this country. Driving a motor vehicle is dangerous, yet the requirements and testing are minimal. It is entirely conceivable that an inexperienced young driver could pass a road test and receive a full, unrestricted driver license with almost no "real world" driving experience. A graduated driver licensing system addresses this problem by controlling the circumstances under which beginning teenage drivers may get behind the wheel.

The Graduated Driver Licensing Process

A graduated driver licensing system allows young drivers to acquire safe driving practices and attitudes as they progress through a three-stage process of licensure.

This system has several distinct advantages over the traditional driver licensing system. Graduated driver licensing gives young, novice drivers:

  • Practice in developing driving skills over an extended period of time, leading to greater experience, maturity and judgment;
  • Increased time in supervised behind-the-wheel training during daylight and nighttime hours;
  • Education in basic and advanced driving skills and safety knowledge; and
  • Motivation to practice safe driving skills and behavior by requiring a crash-free/conviction-free driving performance prior to full licensure.

The Three Stages of Graduated Licensing

Learner's permit:
Supervision is required at all times, and other restrictions also apply. This period includes basic driver education and requires that no crashes or convictions occur before the learner advances. There are restrictions on carrying teenage passengers, there can be no violations for failing to wear a seat belt and there is zero alcohol tolerance.

Intermediate license (or provisional license or junior license):
Fewer restrictions are imposed; for example, unsupervised driving is permitted during daylight hours. This period may include advanced driver education and continues to require zero alcohol tolerance and no at-fault crashes or convictions before advancing the driver to the final stage.

Full license (or unrestricted license):
All driving restrictions are removed (except for applicable laws, such as zero alcohol tolerance for drivers under 21).

Core and Recommended Components

All graduated driver licensing systems contain certain core components in order to be effective. Other components are recommended and should be considered for any new or expanded program.

Stage 1 - Learner's Permit
This stage allows the young novice driver the opportunity to practice basic driving skills and safe driving practices under totally supervised conditions.

Minimum eligibility requirements:

  • Meet the minimum age required by the state (currently varies from age 14 to age 17; no younger than age 16 is recommended);
  • Pass vision and knowledge tests, including rules of the road, signs and signals.

Core components:

  • All driving must be supervised by a licensed parent, guardian or adult at least 21 years old;
  • Permit holder must complete basic driver education including behind-the-wheel/vehicle skills training;
  • All vehicle occupants must wear seat belts;
  • Zero alcohol tolerance for those under age 21;
  • Permit is cancelled if applicant is convicted of any alcohol-related offense;
  • Applicant must remain free of at-fault crashes and convictions for at least six consecutive months in order to move to the next stage; and
  • Minimum holding period of six months;
  • Permit is visually distinctive from other driver licenses.

Recommended components:

  • Parental participation in the driving process (for instance, certifying that the novice driver has had a minimum number of supervised hours of driving);
  • Youth-oriented and more rapid driver improvement actions are taken in the event of violations or at-fault crashes;
  • Limitations on speed and types of roads where driving is allowed; and
  • Limitations on carrying teenage passengers.

Stage 2 - Intermediate License

This stage gives the young driver behind-the-wheel practice under less restrictive circumstances and exposes the driver to more demanding driving situations. It provides an opportunity forthe new driver to use newly acquired driving and decision-making skills by allowing unsupervised driving during daylight hours.

Minimum eligibility requirements:

  • Successfully complete the learner's permit stage;
  • Meet the minimum age required by the state; and
  • Pass on-road driving test.

Core components:

  • Restricted nighttime hours of driving unless supervised by a licensed parent, guardian or adult at least 21 years old (for instance, only supervised driving from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.);
  • All vehicle occupants must wear seat belts;
  • Zero alcohol tolerance for those under age 21;
  • Successfully complete driver education;
  • License revocation for any alcohol-related offense;
  • Youth-oriented and more rapid driver improvement actions are taken in the event of violations or at-fault crashes; and
  • Applicant must remain free of at-fault crashes and convictions for at least twelve consecutive months in order to move to the next stage.
  • License is visually distinctive from other driver licenses.

Recommended components:

  • Parental participation in the driving process (for instance, certifying that the novice driver has had a minimum number of supervised hours of driving);
  • Limitations on speed and types of roads where driving is allowed; and
  • Limitations on carrying teenage passengers.

Stage 3 - Full License

This stage allows unlimited driving privileges.

Minimum eligibility requirements:

  • Successfully complete the intermediate license stage;
  • Meet the minimum age required by the state; and
  • Zero alcohol tolerance for those under age 21.

Recommended components:

  • Downgrade to a provisional license for drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked, and require a crash-free/violation-free period of time prior to re-obtaining full license until age 21;
  • Pass second level knowledge test and on-road driving test; and
  • Successfully complete advanced driver education.

Refer to Appendix B for a chart of states that have one or more of the core components of a model graduated licensing law, as developed by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (Appendix A).