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Graduated licenses save lives, but what if teens put off driving?

Over the past two decades, traffic safety experts have succeeded in getting graduated driver’s license (GDL) programs passed in every state. GDL programs are intended to help inexperienced drivers gain needed skills and driving experience by following a three-stage process. The three stages are typically a learner’s permit, a probationary, restricted license, and a full, unrestricted license. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is one group that has worked hard to get GDL laws passed, because their research showed that when states passed these laws, serious and fatal car accidents among 16-year-old drivers dropped by an average of nearly 40 percent.

But what if young drivers don’t want to get driver’s licenses right away? Most GDL laws, including ours in Texas, don’t apply once the driver turns 18. If a substantial number of teens put off getting driver’s licenses until they were no longer required to go through the graduated licensing program, wouldn’t that put us at risk for an increase in car accidents?

We may soon know the answer to that question. According to the AAA Foundation, American teens are putting off getting driver’s licenses at unprecedented rates. A new survey by the Foundation discovered that only about 33 percent of U.S. teens have a driver’s license within a year of the minimum age in their state. By age 18, around 44 percent still hadn’t obtained a license.

“For a range of reasons, young adults increasingly are getting licensed without the benefit of parental supervision, extensive practice and gaining experience under less risky conditions that are the hallmark of a safety-focused licensing system,” says AAA’s director of state relations.

Here in Texas, people someone under 18 can get a driver’s license, he or she must go through a three-step GDL program, which includes:

  • Phase one: a six-month instruction permit or hardship license that requires the new driver to have a 21-year-old licensed driver in the front seat
  • Phase two: a provisional license, after successful completion of phase one for six months, completing driver’s education and turning 16. No the new driver can either have a 21-year-old licensed driver in the front seat or comply with these restrictions:
    • No more than 1 non-family-member passenger under 21 is allowed
    • No driving between midnight and 5 a.m. unless necessary for school, employment or a medical emergency
  • Phase three: a full, unrestricted license

Unfortunately, new drivers who are over 18 do not have to go through the process, and AAA worries that a spike in traffic accidents may be on the horizon. What do you think?

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