Driver Licensing in the U.S. for Minors
Recently, states have been implementing “Graduated Driver Licensing” (GDL) to help quell the elevated crash rates of drivers younger than 18. The single, most dangerous age for a driver is 16. A 16-year-old driver is 10 times more likely than an adult to have an injury or death collision, and 3 times more likely than those between the ages of 18-21. Almost all of these collisions can be traced to one major flaw—lack of experience.
To assist in the needed experience, GDL places a greater burden on the court system, law enforcement, and parents to see that not only is experience gained, but that punishments are meted out and that the driver understands the privilege can be taken away for careless or neglectful driving.
Currently (as of August 2002), 34 states and the District of Columbia have joined in the 3-stage process of GDL, and they have all seen a related reduction in teen collisions and death/injury rates. Not all of these states are equal in their application of the GDL process, however. As originally intended, when proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the GDL plan was:
A minimum supervised learner’s period
An intermediate license that limits unsupervised driving in high-risk situations
Full-privilege licensing after completion of the first two stages
The IIHS has identified, and rated, the states as to their minor licensing laws as GOOD (Stage 1 for at least 6 months, restrictions on nighttime driving, and/or passenger restrictions until age 17), ACCEPTABLE (1 or 2 of the 3 stages, with minimal supervision and restrictions), MARGINAL (at least 1 of the significant elements of the 3-stage process), and POOR (little or no minor licensure requirements and supervision).
The following 9 states received GOOD ratings: California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. ACCEPTABLE was given to 24 states: Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. MARGINAL was received by 11 states: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The 7 POOR states include: Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
The optimal provisions that we would LIKE to see in any GDL program are:
Minimum Entry Age into licensing = 16
Mandatory Holding Period for learning permit = 6 months
Minimum Supervised Driving Hours = 30-50
Minimum Entry Age for Intermediate Stage = 16.5
Unsupervised Driving Prohibition during Intermediate Stage = 10PM-5AM
Passenger Restrictions = no more than 1 teen passenger during Intermediate Stage
Restriction Lifted (3rd Stage) minimum age = 18
In addition, we highly recommend that any parent take the time to inquire about the “Driver Education”that their teen will get.
Some key questions to ask of the high school or commercial driving school:
- What year was the textbook being used published?
- What are the classroom instructors’credentials to teach this class?
- Will the school give you a copy of the synopsis or the curriculum?
- Is the student/parent given a hard copy of the results of each lesson while driving?
- Does the school teach “how to pass the driving test”or do they actually teach driving skills?
- If high school, is the teacher fully credentialed to teach the class?
- If commercial school, ask to see the State-issued License for the instructor in question.
- Can you talk to real people, or a machine, when you have questions about driving in general, or your teenager in specific?
- Is ALL in-car training done one-on-one, or with multiple students?
- If using two different schools, one for classroom and one for behind-the-wheel, how compatible are the teaching texts and methodologies.
While just as exciting to learn to drive for a homeschooler as a public/private schooler, driver education is nothing to laugh at, and should be taken as seriously as if your teen were learning to fly an airplane (which is actually much safer!). Anybody can teach the mechanical skills needed to maneuver a vehicle down a street, but are the novice drivers being taught the mental agility, multi-tasking requirements, and social responsibilities that go with driving on today’s congested and, often, combative highways?