What is the Graduated Driver License Program?

First implemented in Michigan and Florida in the mid-1990s, Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) is a three-step system designed to provide novice drivers with the necessary tools to be safe on our roadways and minimize those things that cause them the greatest risk of crash – distraction caused by other passengers, the use of cell phones and electronic devices as well as driving late at night and riding unbelted. There is a learner's permit phase, a probationary license period and finally a basic or full license.

What does California’s GDL program entail?

 California’s GDL program consists of the following elements:

  1. Teens must be 15 years and six months to obtain a permit

  2. Teens must complete 50 hours of driving – 10 of which must be at night – over the next six months before obtaining an intermediate, or restricted, license at age 16

  3. Teens are not permitted to drive unsupervised between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. when their crash risk is highest

  4. Teens with a restricted license cannot carry any passenger younger than 20 – immediate family members are an exception – for the first 12 months of the restricted licensing period

  5. A basic, or full, license can be obtained and restrictions lifted at age 17

Why does California need a GDL program?

Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens, and their crash risk is four times that of an experienced driver. The risk is highest when teens are in the first 12 to 24 months of licensure.

The “License to Save” Report issued by The Allstate Foundation in December 2011 estimates that 15,164 California teens have been killed in motor vehicle crashes since 1991. It also estimates 1,541 lives have been saved in California since 1991 with the passage of GDL laws. The implementation of GDL programs has saved approximately 14,820 lives nationally since 1991. It is proven to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes involving teen drivers.

Why are passengers dangerous for teen drivers?

Most teen crashes involve some form of distraction. While cell phone use clearly poses a danger to all motorists, passengers are particularly distracting to young drivers. A teen driver is twice as likely to be killed in a crash while carrying just one passenger, regardless of whether the passenger is a friend or a sibling. Carrying two passengers increases crash risk by 158 percent, and three passengers increases risk by 207 percent.

Why is nighttime driving risky for teens?

Forty percent of all teen driver fatal crashes occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. While California does not allow teens on the roadways unsupervised between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., parents are encouraged to set an earlier time for their teens to be off the roads. 

May teen drivers use hands-free cell phones?

No. California has a complete cell phone ban for all motorists under the age of 18, at which point the ban is lifted. Research clearly shows that both handheld and hands-free devices cause manual, cognitive and visual distraction. NSC and the National Transportation Safety Board have called for a complete ban of cell phone use while driving for all motorists, regardless of age. 

How can I help a teen driver gain more experience? 

Research clearly shows that GDL programs are the most effective tactic for addressing teen crash risk because they help novice drivers build skill while minimizing risk. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach, advisor, older sibling, neighbor or friend, learning about and enforcing the GDL program is important. 

Parents in particular play a critical role in teen driver safety. Teens who report having parents that set rules and monitor their activities in a helpful and supportive way are half as likely to crash, 71 percent less likely to drive intoxicated, 30 percent less likely to use a cell phone while driving and 50 percent more likely to wear a safety belt. By partnering with parents, you can help to ensure that they know about and leverage the proven principles of GDL so their teens gain skill and become good drivers for life.

For a complete list of California's specific GDL laws, click here.

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National Safety Council

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