Graduated Driver Licensing Laws

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of American teens. On average, approximately 7 teens were killed in the United States each day of 2015 as a result of motor vehicle crashes. In 2015, crashes involving young drivers aged 15 to 20 claimed the lives of 4,702 people. Of those needless deaths, 1,886 were young drivers, 975 were passengers of young drivers, 1,315 were occupants of other vehicles and 526 were non-occupants. Additionally, the latest data available shows that in 2015 195,000 young drivers were injured in motor vehicle crashes. The estimated economic cost of police-reported crashes involving young drivers between 15 and 20 years old was $40.8 billion (2002).

Teen drivers are far more likely to be involved in fatal crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs introduce teens to the driving experience gradually by phasing in full driving privileges over time and in lower risk settings. These programs have been effective in reducing teen crash deaths. Optimal GDL laws have multiple components, including a three-stage licensing process and restrictions on nighttime driving, number and age of passengers, and cell phone usage.

While all states have at least one element of a GDL program, there is not a single state that has a comprehensive GDL law that includes all seven of the optimal elements, as recommended by Advocates.

GDL Program Facts

  • In states that have adopted GDL programs, studies have found overall crash reductions among teen drivers of about ten to thirty percent.
  • The fatal crash rate per mile driven is nearly twice as high for 16-17 year-olds as it is for 18-19 year-olds.
  • Compared to GDL programs without any of the seven recommended components, fatal crash involvement rates were 16 percent to 21 percent lower in GDL programs that included age requirements plus: 3 or more months of waiting before the intermediate stage, nighttime driving restriction, and either supervised driving of at least 30 hours or passenger restriction.
  • Teenage motor vehicle crash deaths in 2015 occurred most frequently during the periods of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and 9 p.m. to midnight (15, 16, and 17 percent respectively). The midnight to 3 a.m. is a close fourth accounting for 13 percent of teenage motor vehicle crash deaths. States with nighttime driving restrictions show crash reductions of up to 60 percent during restricted hours.
  • Fatal crash rates are 21 percent lower for 15 to 17 year old drivers when prohibited from having any teenage passengers in their vehicles, compared to when two or more passengers were permitted.
  • For 16 and 17 year-old drivers, research has identified a 15 percent reduction in fatal crash rates was associated with a limit of no more than one teen passenger for 6-months or longer, when compared to no passenger limit.
  • Delaying the minimum age for obtaining a learner’s permit was associated with lower fatal crash rates for 15-17 year-olds combined; a 1-year delay (e.g., from age 15 to 16) reduced the fatal crash rate by 13 percent.
  • Research has found that a minimum holding period of at least five months reduces fatal crash rates, however extending the holding period to 9 months to a year results in a 21% reduction in fatal crash rate.
  • Text messaging has become a more prominent issue when it comes to distracted teen drivers. In a 2016 study by Liberty Mutual Insurance Group and Students Against Destructive Decisions, 27 percent of high school students admitted to texting while driving, however 68 percent admit to using apps while driving.
  • A 2010 survey conducted by IIHS shows that parents favor GDL laws that are as strict or even stricter that currently exist in any state. More than half think the minimum licensing age should be 17 or older.
  • Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of teens approve of a single, comprehensive law that incorporates the key elements of GDL programs, according to a 2010 survey by the Allstate Foundation.

For a full list of citations, please download our Young Drivers Fact Sheet.