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Graduated driver licensing addresses both the inexperience and immaturity of young drivers. GDL provides a structure in which beginning drivers gain substantial driving experience in less risky situations. GDL raises the minimum age of full licensure and helps parents manage their teenage drivers. GDL’s effectiveness in reducing young driver crashes has been demonstrated many times (Chaudhary et al., 2018; Masten et al., 2013; Masten et al., 2015; Russell et al., 2011; Shope, 2007; Simpson, 2003; Williams, 2017; Williams et al., 2012).

Driver education was developed to teach both driving skills and safe driving practices. Based on evaluations to date driver education for beginning drivers does a good job at teaching driving skills but has not definitively been shown to reduce the number of crashes or crash rate. Rather, some research has suggested that it lowers the age at which teenagers become licensed, and therefore increases exposure, so its overall effect is to increase the number of crashes (Roberts & Kwan, 2001; Thomas, Blomberg, & Fisher, 2012; Vernick et al., 1999). Current research is investigating ways to integrate driver education with GDL (Mayhew et al., 2014 and 2017) and is developing second-level programs for drivers who have acquired basic driving skills and have been, or are nearing, licensure. Driver education is more effective if combined with an effective GDL program that does not allow a lower licensing age. Many States have completed NHTSA-sponsored driver education assessments to strengthen their programs and align with national standards.

Parents play key roles in their teenagers’ driving. In many States, a parent or guardian must sign the driver’s license application for a teenager under 18, and a parent can withdraw approval at any time. Parents can set limits on their teenagers’ driving. In addition, parents can be involved explicitly and formally through GDL requirements such as minimum hours of supervised driving practice, or they can be involved voluntarily and informally. Several parent- teen driving guide programs can provide assistance (Curry, Peek-Asa, et al., 2015). At least one driving guide program has successfully encouraged parents to impose more driving restrictions on their teens (Simons-Morton, 2007). Technologies are available to assist parents in monitoring their newly licensed teen driver. When combined with a comprehensive system for providing feedback to parents and teens, these technologies have been promising in reducing the incidence of risky driving behaviors among teens (Carney et al., 2010; Farah et al., 2014; McGehee et al., 2007; Reyes et al., 2018; Reyes et al., 2016; Simons-Morton et al., 2013). Finally, several States now require parent involvement in driver education, usually in the form of a mandatory parent orientation class. All these approaches are promising, though none have been shown as of yet to reduce young driver crashes or fatalities.

Some traffic laws apply only to young drivers. GDL systems have been adopted by all 50 States to help novices gain experience in safe settings. Minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) and zero-tolerance BAC laws apply specifically to people under 21, as discussed in the Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter. Some States have restrictions on cell phone use and texting that apply only to young drivers (see Appendix A4, Section 1.2). With all these, enforcement is critical if the laws are to have any effect. The law enforcement system faces several problems when dealing with young drivers. In deciding whether to make a traffic stop, it can be difficult for LEOs to determine a person’s age to know whether GDL and zero-tolerance laws apply. It has been suggested that a vehicle decal identifying a driver as “young” and subject to GDL requirements may be beneficial for enforcement reasons. New Jersey is the first State to pass legislation requiring young drivers subject to GDL restrictions to be identified via a vehicle decal. Studies examining the effectiveness of the decal requirement in New Jersey found that citation rates for violations of licensing restrictions sharply increased and police-reported crash rates decreased the year after the decal requirement went into effect (Curry et al., 2013; McCartt et al., 2012). A follow-up study found that the decline in crash rates could not be attributed to increases in young drivers’ compliance with passenger or nighttime restrictions but may have been the result of a general increase in safer behaviors when displaying decals (Palumbo et al., 2018). Even if the driver is young, in many States, teens may only be stopped for a primary offense, such as speeding. Once stopped, there may be a tendency for officers in some situations not to make arrests or for prosecutors to dismiss charges because the offender is “just a kid.” Finally, the legal system imposes additional requirements for people under the age of legal adulthood (18 in most States). See NHTSA and NIAAA (1999) for a discussion of these requirements and processes for alcohol-related offenses.

Young drivers are discussed in other chapters of this guide. See the following.

  • Alcohol-Impaired Driving, Sections 6.1-6.4 (minimum-drinking-age-21 laws, zero-tolerance BAC laws, school and youth alcohol programs).
  • Distracted Driving, Sections 1.1 and Appendix A4, Sections 2.1 and 3.1 (GDL requirements, communications and outreach, and employer programs).
  • Appendix A5, Motorcycle Safety, Section 3.1 (GDL for motorcyclists).
  • Drowsy Driving, Sections 1.1 and Appendix A10, Sections 2.1 and 3.1 (GDL requirements, communications and outreach, and employer programs).

Except for GDL requirements applying to automobile drivers, these discussions are not repeated in this chapter.

Environmental and vehicular strategies can improve safety for young drivers, as they can for all drivers. However, these types of countermeasures are not included because State Highway Safety Offices do not have authority or responsibility in these areas.