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Graduated Driver Licensing Systems

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems initially restrict the driving privileges of new drivers. As those persons gain driving experience and competencies, the restrictions are removed, typically in three stages. Those stages begin with a learner’s stage/permit, followed by an intermediate stage or provisional license, and then a full privilege stage/license. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some form of a GDL system in place, however, specific components vary by state.

Although GDL programs have been shown to reduce fatal teen crashes, a few studies have indicated that more comprehensive GDL programs are even better at reducing teen crashes and fatalities. Such programs include higher minimum age for each stage of licensing, increased hours of supervised driving, and more driving restrictions. Another element for consideration is the enforcement of GDL systems, and the use of penalties. Comprehensive GDL systems include some or all of the following:

  1. minimum age of 16 years for a learner’s permit,
  2. mandatory holding period of at least 12 months,
  3. restrictions against nighttime driving between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (or longer),
  4. limit of zero or one young passengers without adult supervision,
  5. minimum age of 18 years for full licensure.

Related Transportation and Heath Tool Indicators

How can this strategy result in health benefits?

  • Reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities

How has this worked in practice?

New Jersey

New Jersey was an early state in the implementation of a GDL system. Key provisions of New Jersey’s program include establishing a minimum age of 17 years for licensing; limiting the number of passengers to one, regardless of age; applying select provisions to novice drivers of all ages; and extending other provisional license restrictions to 12 months or age 21 years. The stronger night and passenger restrictions were made effective in 2010. Even before implementation of these enhancements, the GDL program in New Jersey resulted in statistically significant reductions in crash rates for 17-year-olds (16%) and 18-year-olds (10%) relative to drivers ages 25 to 59 years, with particularly significant reductions in nighttime crashes. As a result, New Jersey’s ranking for fatal crash rates among 17-year-olds improved from 45th before implementation of the GDL program to 21st in 2010.

Where can I learn more?

NHTSA - Teen Drivers - Graduated Driver Licensing provides information on GDL systems, educational and promotional program resources, and federal grant resources, and corresponding GDL system requirements.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety - Highway Loss Data Institute - Teenagers site provides detailed information on GDL systems, including current specifications for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and a crash reduction calculator, which illustrates how policy changes to specific GDL components might affect fatal teen crash rates.

The CDC’s Injury Prevention & Control, Motor Vehicle Safety website includes resources on topics ranging from safety for older adult drivers to safety for pedestrians and motorcycle safety, plus state data and cost and policy information. Within that website are the CDC’s Motor Vehicle Safety Costs pages, which include information on cost data and prevention policies.

CDC Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety - Teen Drivers provides educational resources and research on teen driving. The CDC’s Parents are the Key website also includes useful guidance and information.

The U.S. DOT reauthorization Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) includes a grant program for states that certify that their GDL system contains certain provisions, including a teen driver education program and restrictions on nighttime driving, number of passengers, and cell phone use.

Evidence base

Fell JC, Jones K, Romano E, Voas R. An evaluation of graduated driver licensing effects on fatal crash involvements of young drivers in the United States. Traffic Injury Prevention 2011;12(5):423–31.

Goodwin A, Sandt B, Hall W, Thomas L, O’Brien N, Summerlin D. Countermeasures that work: A highway safety countermeasure guide for state highway safety offices, 7th edition. Washington, DC: NHTSA, U.S. DOT; 2013.

Masten SV, Foss RD, Marshall SW. Graduated driver licensing and fatal crashes involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers. The Journal of the American Medical Association 2011;306(10):1098-1103.

Morrisey MA, Grabowski DC, Dee TS, Campbell C. The strength of graduated drivers license programs and fatalities among teen drivers and passengers. Accident Analysis & Prevention 2006;38(1):135-141.

Steadman M, Bush JK, Thygerson SM, Barnes MD. Graduated driver licensing provisions: An analysis of state policies and what works. Traffic Injury Prevention 2014;15(4):343-348.

Williams AF, Tefft BC, Grabowski JG. Graduated driver licensing research, 2010-present. Journal of Safety Research 2012;43(3):195-203.