By Pam Shadel Fischer, MLPA, CPST

If you’ve got a novice driver in the house or you are one, take the time to brush up on your knowledge of your state’s graduated driver license (GDL) program, which is proven to reduce teen crash risk.

The three-step licensing process – learner’s permit, intermediate (restricted) license, and full (unrestricted) licensure – is designed to help teen drivers gain experience and build skill while minimizing those things that cause them the greatest risk – distraction caused by passengers and the use of cell phones and other electronic devices, as well as driving late at night and riding unbelted.  Addressing risk is essential since car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.

Crash data confirm that speeding, impairment, and distraction and inattention, caused not just by electronic devices, but others passengers, are contributing factors in teen crashes. While teens want to drive themselves and their friends and siblings to and from school, parents must understand the risks associated with teen drivers and passengers. Just one teen passenger increases a teen driver’s crash risk by 48 percent. Add three or more teens and the risk jumps by as much as 307 percent.

Teens are aware of the risk. In a study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm, 94 percent of teens report seeing passengers engaged in distracted behaviors. Under many state GDL programs, a teen holding an intermediate license must comply with passenger restrictions. Parents need to treat these restrictions as minimum standards – not maximums to shoot for – and ensure that their teen whether he or she is the driver or a passenger in another teen’s car is aware of the risk. Additionally, parents should talk with the parents of their teens’ friends about this restriction to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

That goes for driving at night, too. Ensuring that teen license holders refrain from late night driving is also critical since 40 percent of teen driver fatal crashes happen after 9 p.m. While it may be tempting to allow your teen to drive past your state’s GDL curfew, particularly if he or she is involved in school activities, resist the urge. Your teen may not think it’s cool to be picked up by mom or dad or you may find the night time run inconvenient, but safety should always trump convenience and perception.

Also be sure to reinforce the use of seat belts daily. Despite growing up with car and booster seats, today’s teens are less likely to buckle up regardless of seating position. With the highest crash risk of any age group on the road, ensuring your teen wears a seat belt on every trip is essential.

About the Author
Pam Fischer is a New Jersey-based transportation safety consultant with nearly three decades of experience addressing behavioral safety issues at the local, state and national level through advocacy, education, enforcement, outreach, policy, and planning. She established the firm bearing her name in January 2011 to help local, state and federal government agencies and non-profit organizations address the behavioral safety issues that put all roadway users at risk.
Pam Fischer Consulting, Hackettstown, NJ

Additional Resources

GDL Made Simple: Learn more about the specifics of your state’s GDL

Here is general overview of what the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program looks like and how it works. Check with your local motor vehicle department for details specific to your state.