Graduated Drivers Licensing Systems for Novice Drivers

WHEREAS novice drivers have the highest crash rates of any age group, and

WHEREAS graduated driver licensing programs implement specific driving restrictions, and

WHEREAS research shows that driving restrictions for novice drivers substantially reduces the crash risk of these young drivers, and

WHEREAS specific restrictions on nighttime driving and teenage passengers are essential components to a graduated licensing program, and

WHEREAS graduated licensing programs for novice drivers up to age 18 may be even more beneficial for drivers up to the age of 21,

WHEREAS graduated driver licensing programs with a variety of requirements have been adopted in all States in the United States and Australia, most Provinces in Canada, and many European countries,

BE IT RESOLVED that all jurisdictions should adopt graduated driver licensing programs for novice drivers up to age 21 with the following structure:

  1. A learner stage with a requirement for documenting a minimum number of hours of driving with a fully licensed driver over age 21.
  2. A second (intermediate/provisional) stage that includes a nighttime driving restriction, a limit of one teenage passenger, and lasts a specified time period.
  3. Zero tolerance for any alcohol or impairing drug in a driver until full licensure (at the earliest).
  4. A requirement for appropriate restraint use by every occupant in a vehicle driven by a novice driver.
  5. No ability to obtain full licensure (the final stage) until the driver successfully completes the requirements of the first two stages.


Adopted: 2004 and updated August 2020



  • Novice drivers are at the highest risk of an automotive crash. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young people aged 16 to 20 in the United States, accounting for approximately 26% of their deaths (Webb, 2016). Young drivers aged 15 to 20 make up between 8 and 9% of the U.S. population but only about 5 to 6% of the licensed drivers. However, young drivers are involved in between 8 and 9% of the fatal traffic crashes each year (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017). In recent years, between 4,000 and 5,000 fatalities have occurred in crashes involving young drivers aged 15 to 20 (NHTSA, 2017). Crashes involving young drivers aged 15 to 20 cost the United States’ economy an estimated $42 billion each year (Blincoe et al., 2002). About 20% of young drivers (aged 15-20) involved in fatal crashes are estimated to be drinking before their crash (NHTSA, 2017). Sixteen-year-old drivers have crash rates that are three times greater than 17-year-olds, five times greater than 18-year-olds, and even twice those of drivers aged 85 and older in the United States (McCartt et al., 2003). Research has indicated that three factors play a prominent role in crashes involving teenagers: (1) inexperience, (2) immaturity and risk taking, and (3) greater exposure to risk (Masten, 2004; Senserrick & Haworth, 2004). Nighttime driving, teenage passengers, inadequate driving skills, excessive speeds, alcohol use, distractions from teenaged passengers, and a low rate of safety belt use are all factors that rapidly accelerate crash injury rates for novice drivers (Masten, 2004; Masten & Chapman, 2004).


  • Graduated licensing restricts driving until one can show competency in essential driving tasks. All states have adopted graduated licensing programs requiring that progression to full licensure occur in stages (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2006). The rationale for a graduated program is to extend the period of supervised driving, thus permitting beginners to acquire their initial on-the-road driving experience under lower-risk conditions. Graduated licensing programs vary widely, but typically, there is a required supervised learning stage of six months or more. This is followed by an intermediate or provisional license stage of at least several months with restrictions on high-risk driving before a driver “graduates” to full license privileges. NHTSA, along with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the National Safety Council (NSC), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), established such a three-stage national model for graduated licensing to introduce driving privileges gradually to beginning drivers. Under these programs, novice drivers are required to demonstrate responsible driving behavior (i.e. no traffic offenses) at each stage before advancing to the next stage. After novice drivers have graduated from supervised driving and independent driving, most programs restrict nighttime driving and carrying passengers among other provisions until the novice driver is fully licensed.


  • Driving restrictions through graduated licensing are effective in reducing novice drivers’ risk of crashing. Young drivers start out with very little knowledge or understanding of the complexities of driving a motor vehicle. Many young drivers act impulsively, use poor judgment, and participate in high-risk behaviors (Beirness et al., 2004). Over the last two decades, the strategy of extending the period of supervised driving and limiting the novice’s exposure to higher-risk conditions, such as nighttime driving, has substantially reduced crash involvements (Williams & Ferguson, 2002; Chen et al., 2006; McCartt et al., 2009; Masten et al., 2011; Fell et al., 2011). In an evaluation of graduated licensing programs in the United States, Chen, Baker, and Li (2006) found that the presence of such programs was associated with an 11% decrease in the fatal crash rate involving 16-year-old drivers. Evaluations of individual state programs also show the benefits of adopting graduated driver licensing programs. The Florida law resulted in a 9% reduction in crashes for 16- and 17-year-old drivers (Ulmer et al., 2000). Evaluations in North Carolina (Foss et al., 2001; Foss & Goodwin, 2003) and Michigan (Shope et al., 2001; Shope & Molnar, 2004) indicated reductions of 26 to 27% in crashes for 16-year-old drivers in graduated licensing programs. Additionally, in Nova Scotia, Canada, researchers reported a 24% reduction in crashes for 16-year-old drivers (Mayhew et al., 2001) following a graduated licensing program.


  • Nighttime driving and teenage passengers are two of the highest risk factors for novice drivers. One key component of graduated licensing programs during the intermediate stage is the nighttime restriction that requires the presence of an adult while driving. Most underage drinking takes place at night, so this restriction on driving is designed to at least prevent the underage drinker from driving. It also may reduce underage drinking itself because the beginning driver is not allowed to drive alone to the location where the underage drinking takes place during these nighttime hours. Research on individual state graduated licensing programs has shown a positive effect of nighttime restrictions on all crashes involving novice drivers (Williams & Preusser, 1997; Mayhew et al., 2003). More recent research has shown that nighttime restrictions reduced involvement of drivers aged 16-17 in nighttime fatal crashes by an estimated 10% and drinking drivers aged 16-17 in nighttime fatal crashes by 13% (Fell et al., 2011a). In addition to nighttime driving, teenage passengers also increase the crash risk of novice drivers (Williams & Ferguson, 2002). Several studies (Farrow, 1987; Doherty et al., 1998; Preusser et al., 1998; Aldrige et al., 1999; Chen et al., 2000) have documented the increased risk posed by passengers distracting the novice driver or encouraging risky behavior. As a result, the inclusion of a restriction against transporting underage passengers during the early period of solo driving in graduated licensing programs is recommended by NHTSA and IIHS. Begg and Stephenson (2003) found a 9% reduction in crashes involving teenage passengers following the enactment in New Zealand of a restriction on teenage passengers. Smith et al. (2001) found a 23% reduction in injuries per licensed driver following the addition of a teen passenger prohibition in the California GDL law. Fell et al., (2011) concluded that passenger restrictions reduced involvement of drivers aged 16-17 in fatal crashes with teen passengers by an estimated 9%.


  • Graduated licensing programs for novice drivers may benefit from being extended from age 18 to age 21. A 2011 study of graduated driver licensing laws (Masten, Foss, & Marshall, 2011) found substantial reductions in fatal crashes of 16-year-old drivers associated with the adoption of strong licensing laws (down 26%) but found increases in fatal crashes for 18-year-olds in those same states (up 12%). The authors suggested that strong graduated licensing laws might have delayed licensure of many youth until they were aged 18 to avoid all the graduated licensing provisions and requirements. Fell et al. (2013) found that 1,945 lives were saved by the reductions in fatal crashes involving drivers aged 16 associated with GDL laws in general. The IIHS For the “good” GDL laws, there was a net increase in fatalities of 377 due to the increase in fatal crashes by drivers aged 18, with an additional increase of 855 fatalities if the 19-year-old increase is included. “Good” GDL laws resulted in 2,347 lives saved due to the reduction of drivers aged 16 in fatal crashes but were associated with an increase of 2,724 fatalities from fatal crash involvements of drivers aged 18. The outcome of these efforts indicates that GDL laws save the lives of the population they target. This favorable impact is even larger for the better GDL programs (i.e., the enacted GDL is “good” according to IIHS). These results also indicate that the lives of some drivers aged 15-17 saved by GDL laws are offset among the associated increases in fatal crashes by drivers aged 18-19. The reasons for the conflict in GDL benefits are unclear. They could be caused by (a) drivers aged 18-19 skipping the GDL phases and beginning to drive at a later age, reducing their driving experience; (b) drivers aged 18-19 exhibiting more risk-taking behaviors (e.g., impaired driving, lack of safety belt use, distracted driving) than younger drivers; (c) drivers aged 18-19 having increased exposure to risk for a fatal crash (e.g., more late-night driving; more driving on high-speed roads); and/or (d) drivers aged 18-19 who have gone through the two phases of GDL lacking driving experience under risky conditions because of all the restrictions in the GDL laws. Whatever the reasons, this finding suggests that GDL laws should be applied to protect novice drivers older than ages 16 and 17 and up to age 21. However, further research is needed to clarify this issue.

Click on the link below for more information on graduated driver licensing:



Aldridge, B., Himmler, M., & Aultman-Hall, L. (1999). Impact of passengers on driver safety. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board.

Begg, D., & Stephenson, S. (2003). Graduated driver licensing: The New Zealand experience. Journal of Safety Research, 34, 99-105.

Beirness, D. J., Mayhew, D. R., Simpson, H. M., & Desmond, K. (2004). The road safety monitor 2004: Young Drivers. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Traffic Injury Research Foundation.

Blincoe, L., Seay, A., Zaloshnja, E., Miller, T. R., Romano, E. O., Luchter, S., & Spicer, R. S. (2002, May). The economic impact of motor vehicle crashes, 2000 (DOT HS 809 446). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Chen, L. H., Baker, S. P., Braver, E. R., & Li, G. (2000). Carrying passengers as a risk factor for crashes fatal 16- and 17-year-old drivers. Journal of the American Medical Association, 283(12), 1578-1582.

Chen, L. H., Baker, S. P., & Li, G. (2006). Graduated driver licensing programs and fatal crashes of 16 year old drivers: A national evaluation. Pediatrics, 118(56–62).

Doherty, S. T., Andrey, J. C., & MacGregor, C. (1998). The situational risks of young drivers: The influence of passengers, time of day and day of week on accident rates. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 30(1), 44-52.

Farrow, J. A. (1987). Young driver risk-taking: A description of dangerous driving situations among sixteen to nineteen-year-old drivers. International Journal of the Addictions, 22(12), 1255-1267.

Fell, J. C., Todd, M., & Voas, R. (2011). A national evaluation of the nighttime and passenger restriction components of graduated driver licensing. Journal of Safety Research, 42(4), 283-290.

Fell, James C., Romano, Eduardo & Voas, Robert B. (2013). A national evaluation of graduated driver licensing laws in the United States. 20th International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety, Conference Proceedings, Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Foss, R., & Goodwin, A. (2003). Enhancing the effectiveness of graduate driver licensing legislation. Journal of Safety Research, 34, 79-84.

Foss, R. D., Feaganes, J. R., & Roggman, L. A. (2001). Initial effects of graduated driver licensing on 16-year-old driver crashes in North Carolina. Journal of the American Medical Association, 286(13), 1631-1632.

Masten, S. V. (2004). Teenage driver risks and interventions. Research Report No. 207. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Masten, S. V., & Chapman, E. A. (2004). The effectiveness of home-study driver education compared to classroom instruction: The impact on student knowledge and attitudes. Traffic Injury Prevention, 5(2), 117-121.

Masten, S.V., Foss, R.D., & Marshall, S.W. (2011). Graduated driver licensing and fatal crashes involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers. J of the Am Medical Association, 306(10), 1098-1103.

Mayhew, D. R., Simpson, H. M., Des Groseilliers, M., & Williams, A. F. (2001). Impact of the graduated driver licensing program in Nova Scotia. Journal of Crash Prevention and Injury Control, 2(3), 179-192.

Mayhew, D. R., Simpson, H. M., & Pak, A. (2003). Changes in collision rates among novice drivers during the first months of driving. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 35, 683-691.

McCartt, A. T., Shabanova, V. I., & Leaf, W. A. (2003). Driving experience, crashes and traffic citations of teenage beginning drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 35, 311-320.

McCartt, A.T., Teoh, E.R., Fields, M., Braitman, K.A., & Hellinga, L.A. (2009). Graduated Licensing Laws and Fatal Crashes of Teenage Drivers: A National Study. Arlington, VA: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2017). Traffic Safety Facts: Young Drivers (DOT HS 812 363). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2006). Graduated driver licensing system. Traffic safety facts: Laws. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Accessed September, 2006, from the World Wide Web:

Preusser, D. F., Ferguson, S. A., & Williams, A. F. (1998). The effect of teenage passengers on the fatal crash risk of teenage drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 30(2), 217-222.

Sagberg, F. (1998). Month-by-month changes in accident risk among novice drivers, Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Applied Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Senserrick, T., & Haworth, N. (2004). Young driver research: Where are we now? What do we still need to know? Paper presented at the Road Safety Research, Education, and Policing Conference, Monash University, Perth, Australia/Clayton, Victoria, Australia.

Shope, J. T., & Molnar, L. J. (2004). Michigan’s graduated driver licensing program: Evaluation of the first four years. Journal of Safety Research, 35(3), 337-344.

Shope, J. T., Molnar, L. J., Elliott, M. R., & Waller, P. F. (2001). Graduated driver licensing in Michigan: Early impact on motor vehicle crashes among 16 year-old drivers. Journal of the American Medical Association, 286(13), 1593-1598.

Smith, A. M., Pierce, J., & Upledger, R. (2001). Motor vehicle occupant crashes among teens: impact of the graduated licensing law in San Diego. Barrington, Illinois: 45th Annual Proceeding of the Association for Advancement of Automotive.

Ulmer, R. G., Preusser, D. F., Williams, A. F., Ferguson, S. A., & Farmer, C. M. (2000). Graduated licensing program on the crash rate of teenage drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 32(4), 527-532.

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Williams, A. F., & Preusser, D. F. (1997). Night driving restrictions for youthful drivers: A literature review and commentary. Journal of Public Health Policy, 18(3), 334-345.