Dear Your Teen:
My son just got his driver’s license. In our state, we have a graduated drivers licensing system. The rules are that for the next year, my son is only allowed to drive with one non-family member in the car and is also not allowed to drive after midnight. He’s insisting that no one follows these graduated driving restrictions and neither should he. I’d like to understand the reasons behind these restrictions (besides giving my teenager a reason to be aggravated!).
Graduated Drivers Licensing Saves Lives
Great question! Most states now have some form of graduated drivers licensing in place. The restrictions vary from state to state, but in general, under GDL, drivers must go through three stages in order to earn full driving privileges. These are the supervised learning period (the permit phase in which your teenager is learning to drive with supervision, typically 50 hours); the provisional driver’s license (typically a year, during which your teenager’s driving privileges are limited); and the unrestricted license (which are the full driving rights you enjoy as an adult).
States have adopted the GDL process for one simple reason: these rules save teenager’s lives. In this way, they are similar to seatbelt laws.
States began passing GDL laws in the 1990s. In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that the number of drivers age 15 to 20 involved in fatal crashes was 4,347, down a whopping 48 percent from the 8,325 in 2002. That’s in large part thanks to GDL laws.
Still, even with GDL, teenage drivers are twice as likely as adults to be in a car crash, thanks to inexperience and immaturity. GDL seeks, in effect, to protect teenagers from themselves by restricting them from driving in the situations shown most likely to lead to accidents.
Driving with a group of friends. Peers are highly distracting when a teenager is behind the wheel. A 2008 study found that driving with just two friends in the car more than triples the risk of a fatal crash when a teenager is at the wheel. Even if the friends are sitting quietly in the car, it still increases a teenager’s risk of a fatal crash, according to another study, which found that just being observed by peers made teen drivers more likely to engage in risky behavior.
Driving at night. Driving at night is more dangerous than driving during the day for all drivers, but particularly for inexperienced teenage drivers. That’s why most states require teenage drivers with provisional licenses to be off the road by around midnight.
After a year of following these provisions, teenage drivers automatically earn an unrestricted license and will be able to drive with multiple friends and late at night. But they will also have the experience to handle these riskier situations.
Be sure to find out what your state’s particular GDL rules are by visiting your Department of Motor Vehicle’s website.
How to Stand Firm
Experts recommend parents create a driving contract for a new teenage driver. This contract lays out the rules under which your teenager is allowed to drive and the consequences for not following those rules. Your state’s GDL guidelines should be part of this contract. And last but not least, stress the experts, remember that the contract is only as good as your enforcement of it.
Diana Simeon is managing editor of Your Teen.