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Research Update: Graduated Driver Licensing Reduces Risk of Young Driver Crashes

Lin ML, editor. Graduated driver licensing. Journal of Safety Research 2003;34(special issue):1–126.

A series of research papers printed in the January 2003 special issue of the Journal of Safety Research makes a compelling case for graduated driver licensing (GDL), the system of laws and practices that gradually introduce young drivers into the driving population. The collection of 12 scientific papers and other presentations are the printed proceedings of a November 2002 symposium to document the effectiveness of GDL and addresses several important areas of GDL research. 

A summary of the special issue appears below.  Subscribers to the Journal of Safety Research can access the full issue online. CDC's Injury Center has a limited number of print copies available. To request a copy, send an e-mail to

  • The need for GDL
    Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury among teenagers, and crash risk is highest among the most inexperienced teens. Drivers 16 years of age experience crashes almost three times as often as more experienced drivers ages 18 to 19 years. The crash risk for young drivers is greatest at night, and also increases when teenage passengers are in the car. GDL address the high risks faced by new drivers by allowing them to get their initial driving experience under low risk conditions.

  • The effectiveness of GDL
    Evaluations of GDL programs in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand have consistently found that GDL reduces the crash risk among teen and other inexperienced drivers. GDL appears to work both by reducing the amount of driving by an inexperienced driver and by improving driving skills under low risk conditions. 

  • The learner’s permit phase 
    Under GDL, beginning drivers must first obtain a learner’s permit which allows them to drive only while supervised by a licensed driver. The learner’s permit must be held for a specified time period, and in some cases, a minimum amount of supervised driving is also required during this phase. Research has shown that learner’s permit requirements contribute substantially to the safety benefits of GDL. Crash rates for drivers with learning permits are much lower than those of newly-licensed drivers.

  • The provisional license phase 
    Under GDL, drivers must successfully complete their learner’s permit requirements and pass a skills test to receive a provisional or intermediate license. The provisional license restricts unsupervised driving in some higher-risk situations such as late night driving and driving with teen passengers. Though nighttime driving and passenger restrictions have been shown to reduce the crash risk for teen drivers, research findings suggest that passenger restrictions are violated more frequently than nighttime driving restrictions. 

  • The role of parents 
    Most parents of teenagers are involved in teaching driving skills, supervising driving, and governing their teens’ access to vehicles. GDL can guide and support parents in these activities. However, many parents are unprepared for their new role as enforcer of the GDL restrictions, and "how to" information for these parents is limited. Only a few programs to strengthen parental management of teen driving have been formally evaluated. Further work is needed to develop, implement, and evaluate strategies for improving parental management of teen drivers.



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