Graduated Driver Licensing Is Effective In Reducing Young Driver Crash Fatalities

Graduated Driver Licensing Is Effective In Reducing Young Driver Crash Fatalities

Graduated Driver Licensing Is Effective In Reducing Young Driver Crash Fatalities

Young drivers have much higher fatal crash rates than other drivers and represent a significant highway safety problem.

In 1998, nearly 42,000 people were killed in traffic crashes and almost 3.2 million more were injured, at a cost more than $150 billion. Young drivers have much higher fatal crash rates than other drivers and represent a significant highway safety problem. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of American teenagers.

Teen drivers are far more likely than other drivers to be involved in fatal crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks due to their immaturity. Graduated driver licensing (GDL) is a system that is effective in reducing young driver crash fatalities. It is designed to introduce young drivers to the driving experience gradually, by phasing in full driving privileges over time and in lower-risk settings.

Graduated driver licensing consists of a learner’s stage, an intermediate driving stage and an unrestricted driving stage. Optimal provisions of this three tier system include:

Learner's Permit

  • Minimum entry age of 16
  • Held for six months
    all driving must be supervised by an adult
  • Completion of 30-50 hours of supervised driving

Intermediate License

  • Held for six months
    no unsupervised
  • Driving at night until age 18
  • No more than one teenage passenger

Full License

  • Minimum age of 18 for unrestricted driving privileges

Since 1996, 35 states have adopted some features of GDL, and a smaller number have adopted all of the key components. In 1998, an unprecedented number of states, 13, passed some form of a GDL system and more states are now actively considering GDL.


In 1998, 7,975 drivers age 15-20 were involved in fatal crashes, in which 3,427 of the young drivers themselves died. An additional 348,000 young drivers were injured in motor vehicle crashes. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, 1999)

Based on estimated miles traveled annually, teen drivers age 16-19 have a fatality rate four times the rate of drivers age 25-69. (NHTSA, 1998 )

  • Young people age 15-20 represent less than seven percent of the total driving population, but they are involved in 14 percent of all fatal traffic crashes. (NHTSA, 1999)
  • Sixteen year-olds have almost ten times the crash risk of drivers age 30-59. (Williams, A.F., 1996)
    In 1998, of the young drivers who had been drinking and were killed in crashes, 80% were not wearing safety belts. (NHTSA, 1999)
  • Twenty-eight percent of young drivers involved in fatal crashes in 1998 had been drinking alcohol. (NHTSA, 1999)
  • Sixty-five percent of teenage passenger deaths take place when another teen is driving the vehicle. (NHTSA, 1998)
  • Forty-one percent of fatal crashes involving teenagers occur at night (between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.). (NHTSA, 1998)


  • In 1997, the first full year of its GDL system, Florida experienced a nine percent reduction in fatal and injury crashes for 15-17 year-olds, compared with 1995. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, 1999)
  • Five years after enacting a partial GDL system, California reported a 5.3 percent decrease in the rate of crashes involving young drivers. Since that time, California has enacted a stronger, more effective GDL system. (NHTSA, 1998)
  • Oregon’s GDL system was particularly effective with male teen drivers. Those who completed the GDL system experienced 16 percent fewer crashes during their first year of driving compared to those who had not received their license under the GDL system. (NHTSA, 1998)
  • In Ontario, Canada, where GDL took effect in 1994, preliminary results show the crash rate for drivers age 16-19 declined 27 percent in 1995 compared to 1993. (Interim report, Toronto, Ontario: Ministry of Transportation, 1998)
  • Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the IIHS have found that passenger restrictions for young drivers could save hundreds of lives each year. If 100 percent of teen drivers drove by themselves, rather than riding with other young drivers, 275 lives could be saved each year. (IIHS, 1999)
  • A recent survey by the IIHS found that after young drivers completed a GDL system, their parents were more supportive than before of the restrictions. Many of the parents favored more difficult licensing laws than the new GDL systems. (IIHS, 1999)

Crash Risk Is Lower Among Teens Subject To Core Provisions Of Graduated Licensing - IIHS

24 states have enacted some form of graduated licensing


Experts at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in Canada today released research on the core provisions needed in graduated licensing laws to ensure significant reductions in collisions and injuries. Some day soon all new drivers in North America may be subject to graduated licensing, an increasingly popular approach to reducing new drivers' risk of collisions.

Six Canadian provinces and 24 U.S. states have enacted some form of graduated licensing since 1994. But not all graduated licensing systems are the same.

"Florida was the first state in the 1990s to enact core elements of graduated licensing," says Allan F. Williams, the Institute's senior vice president for research. "For 15 to 17 year-olds combined, fatal and injury crash rates were down 9 percent in Florida during 1997, the first full year of graduated licensing, compared with 1995. Easy and quick access to full-privilege licensure at an early age has contributed to the high crash rate of young drivers in North America. Graduated licensing offers a more sensible and less risky way for drivers to begin, as indicated by these Florida results as well as by earlier evaluations of graduated systems in New Zealand and Ontario, Canada."

Graduated licensing is a system for phasing in on-the-road driving, allowing beginners to get their initial experience under lower risk conditions and introducing them in stages to more complex driving situations. Essentially an apprentice system, graduated licensing involves three stages. The first is a supervised learner's period, then an intermediate licensing phase that permits unsupervised driving only in less risky situations, and finally a full-privilege license when conditions of the first two stages are met. Within this framework, substantial variation is possible in terms of specific provisions and their duration. Policymakers need to know which features their system should include.

"Ideally, the learner's stage should have a minimum age of at least 16, a minimum mandatory holding period of 6 months, and certification of 30-50 hours of supervised driving," says Daniel R. Mayhew, senior vice president at the Traffic Injury Research Foundation. "During the intermediate stage, there should be strict limitations on nighttime driving and transporting teenage passengers. And no one should receive a full-privilege license before the age of 18."

Specific recommendations for the core provisions of graduated licensing systems are available in "Graduated Licensing: A Blueprint for North America," co-authored by the Institute and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation. Results of the evaluation of Florida's graduated licensing law are in "Effect of Florida's Graduated Licensing Program on the Crash Rate of Teenage Drivers" by R.G. Ulmer et al. Both reports are available from the Institute.
GDL for Reducing Young Driver Crash Fatalities

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