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Ages & Stages

Graduated Driver Licensing Laws: Information for Parents

​Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws have been proven to prevent teen driver crashes. Research shows that most teen crashes involve “rookie” mistakes. Graduated driver licensing involves a 3-phase strategy to introduce driving privileges to new drivers while they gain experience.

  • The first phase (learner) allows teens the opportunity to gain experience while being closely supervised by an adult.
  • The second phase (probationary/intermediate) gives a new driver the opportunity to drive alone but with certain restrictions designed to limit exposure to high-risk conditions.
  • The third phase (full licensure) allows teens to drive alone without restrictions.

Graduated Driver Licensing Has 4 Key Objectives:

  1. To expand the learning process. It provides new drivers with varied and supervised practice to gain experience. It has a holding period between the time a teen gets a permit and can take a licensing exam.
  2. Minimize crash risk exposure by requiring new drivers to gain experience in lower-risk conditions (daytime driving, without peer passengers, etc.) before driving in higher-risk conditions.
  3. Improve driving skills by encouraging new drivers to practice while being supervised by a competent adult.
  4. Increase motivation for safe-driving behaviors by acknowledging safe behaviors and reducing privileges for reckless or unsafe behaviors.

Graduated driver licensing laws vary by state. Parents must first be reminded that states set minimum requirements, and they can hold their teens at least to the highest recommended standards. These include the following:

  • Unless it is necessary for your rural community and farming, do not get a learner’s permit until 16 at the earliest.
  • Offer at least 50 hours of adult-supervised driving practice with a minimum of 10 hours of nighttime driving (more is better).
  • Allow at least 6 months of practice time from the time your teen gets a learner’s permit to the time he can go for a license.
  • No cell phone use (or texting!!) in the car unless it is parked.
  • No teen passengers for at least the first 6 months of driving after the license. No more than one teen passenger for at least the second 6 months of driving.
  • No unsupervised driving between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am.
  • Continue with supervision and exposing your teen to new and varied driving conditions of increasing complexity even after licensure.

Parents: The Intervention to Save Teens’ Lives

Although GDL laws are legislated by the states, it is parents who practically implement them. Parents’ model seat belt use and can set the rules around substance use, peer passengers, and cell phone use. They are in a pivotal position to make a difference by taking deliberate steps to ensure teens gradually and systematically gain needed experience both before and after licensing. We know that being an involved parent who sets reasonable rules and provides appropriate supervision works. In fact, teens who said their parents provided them with a mix of warmth, support, and monitoring around driving—that desirable balanced (authoritative) style of parenting—were less than half as likely to be in crashes than teens whose parents were less involved. They were also far more likely to wear seat belts, not drive while intoxicated, and forego use of cell phones while driving.

A first step to prepare parents to fill their role is to guide them to be the kind of authoritative parents who can effectively monitor their children. The key here is to notice and be responsive to their teen’s increasing skill level and displays of responsibility, while setting firm rules around safety. In order for teens to adhere to parents’ monitoring and boundaries, it is critical that teens understand that the rules are in place for safety, not as a means to control them.
Edited by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, FSAHM and Sara B. Kinsman, MD, PhD
Last Updated
Reaching Teens: Strength-based Communication Strategies to Build Resilience and Support Healthy Adolescent Development (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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