1.1 Graduated Driver Licensing Requirements for Beginning Drivers
Studies suggest teenagers and adults are similar in terms of how often they engage in potentially distracting activities while driving (Foss & Goodwin, 2014; Klauer et al., 2014). However, as mentioned in the introduction, teens are at higher risk for a crash when engaged in distracting activities compared to adults (Klauer et al., 2014). Driving requires more of their deliberate attention compared to experienced drivers (Lansdown, 2002). Moreover, key areas of the brain are still developing during adolescence, making it difficult for teens to manage potential distractions (Keating, 2007).
Several elements of GDL reduce the likelihood of distractions for newly licensed drivers. GDL systems usually include a passenger restriction. Passengers, especially teenage passengers, are a major source of distraction for young, beginning drivers (Foss & Goodwin, 2014). Cell phones can also distract drivers (see Appendix A4, Section 1.2), so they are often restricted under GDL. The NCHRP guide for reducing crashes involving young drivers describes key provisions of GDL laws (Goodwin et al., 2007). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (2019) and the Governors Highway Safety Association (2019) summarize State GDL laws. These summaries are updated monthly. See the Young Drivers chapter, Sections 1.1 and Appendix A6, Section 1.7, for a complete discussion of GDL for beginning young drivers.
Use: As of November 2016 all 50 States and the District of Columbia had some GDL components in place. Laws in 46 States and the District of Columbia limit the number of passengers allowed with a driver with a provisional license (GHSA, 2019). Thirty-eight States and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of cell phones, both handheld and hands-free, by drivers with learner’s permits or provisional licenses or by drivers under 18.
Effectiveness: Several studies document that passenger GDL restrictions reduce teenage driver crashes and injuries (Chaudhary et al., 2018; Goodwin et al., 2007; Hedlund & Compton, 2005; Williams, 2007); however, an evaluation of a GDL cell phone restriction suggests cell phone restrictions may have little effect on teenage drivers’ cell phone use (Ehsani et al., 2016; Foss et al., 2009; Goodwin et al., 2012). This finding is consistent with McCartt et al. (2014) who determined that cell phone laws, in general, have little effect on teenagers’ use of cell phones while driving.
One factor that may undermine the effectiveness of GDL restrictions on cell phone use in teen drivers is the perception that the risk of penalty from not complying with the law is low. A study of GDL violations in Washington State and North Carolina found low overall enforcement of the GDL requirement laws, particularly the cell phone use requirement in both States (AAAFTS, 2014). The authors cite that one possible explanation for low enforcement of cell phone requirements is that it may be difficult for officers to discern whether a particular cell phone activity is a banned task or one that is allowed.
As GDL cell phone non-use requirements can be difficult to enforce, the most frequently charged GDL violation in Washington and North Carolina study was violation of passenger restrictions that are easier to observe (AAAFTS, 2014). In an analysis of naturalistic driving data, the most frequently seen driving behavior leading up to a teen crash was attending to passengers (Carney et al., 2015). Limiting the number of young passengers to none or one significantly decreases crash risk (Masten et al., 2013; McCarett et al., 2010). Not only are GDL passenger restrictions associated with a decrease in crashes, they may also help with reducing passenger injuries (Zhu et al., 2016) and multi-passenger crashes (McCarrtt & Teoh, 2015).
It should be noted that the AAA Foundation (AAAFTS, 2014) found that a high proportion of GDL citations, including those for cell phone and passenger restrictions, were dismissed by the Washington and North Carolina courts and that these dismissals “may very well be detrimental to the overall effectiveness of GDL programs.”
Costs: Publicity for GDL restriction changes can be delivered directly by the Department of Motor Vehicles to young drivers as they apply for their learner’s permits and provisional licenses, so costs can be minimal. Information about GDL restrictions can also be provided through driver education courses.
Time to implement: GDL passenger or cell phone restriction changes require several months to implement for drivers receiving a provisional license. They then will take 1 or 2 years before all provisionally licensed drivers are subject to the new restrictions.
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