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Two traffic laws apply only to young drivers: GDL laws and zero-tolerance laws that prohibit drivers under 21 from having BACs of .02 g/dL or greater. As discussed in the Alcohol-and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 6.2, zero-tolerance laws are often not actively publicized or enforced. It’s likely that increased publicity and enforcement would reduce teenage drinking and driving.

GDL laws, discussed in the Young Drivers chapter, Sections 1.1-1.6, also appear not to be enforced vigorously. A study in two States identified modest numbers of citations for some offenses, noting that other GDL restrictions were rarely enforced (AAAFTS, 2014). Some GDL provisions such as nighttime driving restrictions are inherently difficult to enforce because violations are difficult to detect (Hedlund et al., 2003). A study in one State found that intermediate license drivers and their parents were quite aware of their GDL law’s nighttime and passenger restrictions. Both restrictions were violated, though not frequently. Teenagers expressed little concern regarding GDL enforcement. Although surveys of LEOs found that most were supportive of GDL, officers were not familiar with GDL details and considered GDL enforcement a low priority (Goodwin & Foss, 2004). Another study found that teen drivers reported frequently violating passenger restrictions, with and/or without their parents’ knowledge/permission, because local police did not routinely enforce GDL restrictions (Chaudhary et al., 2007).

A recent study of fatal teen driver crashes from 1998 to 2016 in New Jersey reported both extensive public health campaigns and targeted enforcement of GDL laws are necessary for the prevention of such crashes (Bonne et al., 2018). GDL was implemented in New Jersey in 2002. However, significant reductions in teen fatal crashes and the number of fatally injured teenagers were seen only after a comprehensive campaign of public awareness, education, and enforcement began in 2010. School outreach, classroom discussions, parent/teen orientations, and PSAs on GDL were distributed as part of the awareness campaign. Enforcement practices consisted of checkpoints near high schools and targeted enforcement of GDL provisions based on decals. Teen driver crashes in the 4-year pre-campaign period (2006-2010) were compared with a 6-year post-campaign period (2010-2016). Teen-involved crashes decreased 31%, teen driver fatalities decreased 47%, and teen-involved fatal crashes decreased by 43% after the campaign.

Parents are in the best position to enforce GDL requirements (the Young Drivers chapter, Section 3.1). However, some law enforcement support for GDL nighttime driving and teenage passenger restrictions may be useful to emphasize that the requirements are important. GDL law violations are penalized by driver license actions, such as suspension or revocation of the learner’s permit or intermediate license or an extension of the time before full licensure. This means they can be applied administratively and do not involve criminal court proceedings. As noted in the Alcohol-and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 6.2, administrative penalties for zero-tolerance laws are more efficient and allow for a more immediate sanction than criminal penalties. Another issue with enforcement concerns the difficulties in identifying drivers that qualify as falling under the GDL system in a given State. It has been suggested that young drivers should be required to affix a vehicle decal identifying them as qualifying for the GDL program to make them more readily identifiable (Curry et al., 2015). New Jersey was the first State to implement this countermeasure.

Use: The amount of enforcement of zero-tolerance and GDL laws is unknown.

Effectiveness: Zero-tolerance law publicity and enforcement likely will reduce teenage drinking and driving, as discussed in the Alcohol-and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 6.2. High-visibility enforcement of GDL provisions would be most effective if compliance with nighttime and passenger restrictions are included as part of the zero-tolerance efforts. One study investigated whether well-publicized enforcement, including checkpoints near high schools, could increase compliance with seat belt laws and GDL provisions. The study found only modest increases in seat belt use and compliance with the GDL passenger restriction, although levels of compliance prior to the enforcement efforts were already high (Goodwin et al., 2006).

Studies evaluating the effectiveness of vehicle decals in New Jersey have found increases in citations for violations of licensing restrictions and decreases in crash rates among intermediate license holders in the year after the requirement went into effect (Curry et al., 2013; McCartt et al., 2012). A longer term (2-year) evaluation of the effect of the decal provision on police-reported crash rates and citations was conducted and baseline comparisons using data from a 4-year pre-decal period were performed (Curry, Elliott, et al., 2015). The study showed that the adjusted crash rates for intermediate license holders were 9.5% lower after the decal provision. There were no changes in crash rates or citations for holders of learner’s permit (Curry, Pfeiffer, et al., 2015).

Costs: See the Alcohol-and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Section 6.2, for zero-tolerance law enforcement strategies and costs. GDL law enforcement costs will depend on how the enforcement is conducted. Enforcement through regular patrols will require moderate costs for training. Special patrols or checkpoints will require additional staff time. To be most effective, all enforcement efforts will require good publicity to both teens and parents. Publicity to teens can be delivered through high schools, colleges, recreational venues attended by youth, and media directed to youth. The cost of vehicle decals can be paid for by the licensee when they receive a learner’s permit or intermediate license. In New Jersey vehicle decals cost $4 for a pair.

Time to implement: Enforcement programs can be implemented in 3 or 4 months, as soon as appropriate training, publicity, and equipment are in place.

Other issues:

  • Preventative measures: A recent NHTSA study examined the feasibility of deterring drunk driving among teen drivers by fitting the vehicle with alcohol ignition interlocks (Kelley-Baker et al., 2017). Stakeholders participated in meetings conducted in 2010, including interlock device and service providers, community representatives, insurance companies, current voluntary and involuntary users of interlock devices 16- to 26 years old, parents, and teen drivers. Insights from these discussions pointed to the need for a change in the social norming of interlock devices from a punitive to a preventative measure. Parents were generally supportive of interlock devices as a way to prevent drunk driving among their children. The responses from current users pointed to mixed acceptance of the device. Future research into such preventative measures could provide a front-line enforcement of laws and restrictions.
  • Compliance with restrictions: Several studies have shown that teenagers do not always comply with GDL restrictions (Goodwin & Foss, 2004; Williams et al., 2002) and effectiveness of GDL may be reduced. It should be noted, however, that GDL has been shown to be effective even in the absence of police enforcement. For example, focus groups with parents and teen drivers conducted in California, Massachusetts, and Virginia revealed that passenger restrictions were frequently violated in all three States, but even incomplete adherence to the restrictions had a positive impact on teen driver crashes (Chaudhary et al., 2007). In general, compliance with restrictions will be higher in States that have well-designed GDL systems with restrictions that are considered reasonable by parents and teens (Foss & Goodwin, 2003). Curry, Pfeiffer, and Elliott (2017) used the quasi-induced exposure (QIE) method to estimate young, intermediate drivers’ compliance with both the passenger and nighttime restrictions of GDL in New Jersey. The QIE method assumed that young intermediate drivers in multi-vehicle crashes (with only one driver held responsible for the crash) were reasonably representative of the population of young intermediate drivers. Data from 9,250 drivers who were involved in multi-vehicle crashes from July 2010 to June 2012 were examined. Noncompliance with the passenger restriction averaged 8.3%, and noncompliance with the nighttime restriction was 3.1%. Certain groups and situations were associated with higher rates of noncompliance—male drivers, those residing in low-income and urban areas, weekend trips, and trips in the summer months. The authors concluded that outreach should be focused, where possible, on higher-risk situations and groups with higher noncompliance.
  • Citation dismissal in the courts: One study in two States noted relatively high rates of GDL-related citations being dismissed by the courts, which could have a negative impact on the effectiveness of those programs (AAAFTS, 2014).