Graduated Licensing: Does It Make Sense?

Lovely driver

I want to begin by saying that I’ve never been in a car accident. Even as a moronic teen driver, the worst I ever did was run my ’85 Honda Accord into a pole. (I don’t count that as an accident, because it did very little damage, and no other car was involved.)

I got my learner’s permit at age 15 and a half, my full driver’s license at age 16, and was driving a large delivery truck within weeks. From the day I turned 16 until the day I graduated, I filled my Accord (and sometimes my truck) with eight of my closest friends and drove them to school, toted them home, and then out to parties on Friday nights. All that, and never an accident (a miracle, considering my severe lack of seatbelt enforcement.)

Today, my state is one of many that follows a graduated licensing program, which at first I thought was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea. Why not just add more driver training? There was even a time I would have rather seen the driving age moved back to 18. But now I’ve changed my mind.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says over 6,000 young people, ages 15 to 20, died in motor vehicle crashes last year. This is due to a lack of experience and lower maturity levels.

With U.S. traffic accidents killing about 30,000 people per year and costing over $164 billion annually (or more than $1,000 per person), anything that can reduce the number of accidents has to be taken seriously.

There are three stages to a typical graduated licensing system:

  • a supervised learner’s period
  • an intermediate license (after passing the driver test) that limits driving in high-risk situations except under supervision
  • a license with full privileges.

Each state has different requirements, which can be viewed at the IIHS website.

The commonality between states, though, is that graduated licensing practices do reduce the number of accidents, by about 10-30 percent. The best systems, according to the IIHS,

include a learner’s stage beginning at age 16 and lasting at least 6 months, 30 or more hours of supervised driving, plus restrictions on unsupervised night driving and passengers during the first 6 to 12 months of licensure. The nighttime driving restriction should start at 9 or 10 p.m., and no more than 1 teen passenger should be allowed any time of day.

Those are the kinds of rules that a parent will love and a teen will despise. If I was 16 today, I wouldn’t be able to fill my car with my friends until I was 18.

But here’s a possible side effect to that rule: If teens can’t take their friends to the movies in one car, are they taking four or five separate cars and drag racing along the way? I couldn’t find any research to answer that question and would like to get input from a teen driver or two. It almost seems like it would be safer and more environmentally responsible to let teens carry more passengers.

Regardless, I do think graduated licensing is a good idea. It seems to be effective and is a great compromise to implementing a driving age of 18.

Teens: What do you think of graduated licensing programs? How do you get around the one-passenger rule?

Does anyone wish graduated licensing rules were in effect when you were a new driver? I’m glad they weren’t… I wouldn’t have been nearly as popular!


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  1. Graduated licensing is just another wasteful nanny state showpiece law. I know a professional engineer in his 30’s who moved here from UAE. He’s been driving since his teens in UAE, Australia and Europe – yet is required to have a restricted license for a year. No driving after midnight – even though he’s the main trouble shooter on call 24-7 when things go awry. This helps no one–and now a responsible citizen has to break a law in order to maintain his employment all because some stupid government BS.

  2. Living with one parent who is constantly working and in a rural area it is virtually impossible for me to get any chance to get hours up. The program is all well and good for people who have both parents and family friends to help them get their licence, but it makes it damn near impossible for me to get a licence without faking my hours.

    I think the system is a symptom of a nanny state, the teens who speed and crash will not be stopped by this. They are already breaking laws when doing that, so why would another law prevent that? I understand the rationale behind it, but life isn’t as black and white as people believe. Arbitrary laws like this will do little to help, it just makes people think something is being done about the issue.

  3. jgoods that statement would be like me going to and buying something and saying dont charge me until i pay the bill. now i am also a teen driver i have done my speeding and wreckless driving but when it comes to having people in the car i do not do anything stupid but with no one in the car and a couple of friends driving next to me there is probly a better chance of some racing happening

  4. I am a teen driver and i really could not care less about the graduated license program i am apart of. the extra time in the classroom and the guided driving time was good but no teen i know follows the law that they can’t drive at night or with friends because it can only be enforced if one gets pulled over for doing something stupid already and with the extra driving instruction it is really not hard to get around this law. I have never been in an accident or even been pulled over and i have had my license for 9 months now. The program is a nice thought for people who think all teens can’t drive but the rest of us are being punished unjustly. And jgoods how on earth am i supposed to prove i am able to drive without actually driving?

  5. Get them off the road until they prove they can handle driving on it?

    How was that supposed to make sense?

  6. @ randy
    Right on, Randy! I couldn’t agree more. Old people drive into stores; teens drive into trees. Get ’em off the road until they demonstrate they know how to handle it.

  7. The whole point of graduated licensing is to control risky behavior while teens gain experience on the road. One of the most serious risks is an inexperienced driver with other teens in the car, as is proven out almost daily across the country. It happens around here on an almost weekly schedule…..”X Teens Killed in Crash”. We just had one a few weeks ago, where ateen driver (speeding) ran the car off the road and into a tree. Two were killed and the other two were ejected and suffered massive injuries. None were wearing seatbelts. Frankly, few teens have the concentration, common sense and discipline to focus 100% on driving alone, let alone with a group of friends in the car. Probably most teens don’t like a restriction on driving with friends, but so what? It’s there because they’ve proven as a group that they don’t have the judgement to drive safely under those conditions. I recall an incident some thirty years ago where a teen who was assigned to me in Big Brothers was in the back seat of a car broadsided on a busy highway. The driver was another teen and was killed, and the other teen was severly injured with brain damage. He never recovered and became a drooling vegetable who died ten years later. I hate to say it that way, but that’s what this active, smart and friendly teen turned into.

    I think the problems associated with teen driving are so serious that foes of graduated licensing (which seems to work well) be offered only one alternative– Not driving at all until they reach 18 or 21.

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