Reducing Teen Driving Accidents and Fatalities through Stronger GDL Laws

For decades, research studies and statistical data have continued to show the effectiveness of ‘Graduated Driver Licensing’ (GDL) programs. With every state having adopted GDL laws between 1996 and 2011, the efficacy of such programs in improving safety, preventing accidents, and reducing fatalities, is now clearer than ever. While all states utilize a three-stage system, specific GDL regulations vary by state, including those pertaining to age minimums, supervised practice requirements, as well as restrictions on nighttime driving and passengers. Safety experts argue that even more lives could be saved, and accidents prevented, if states with weaker GDL laws enacted tougher standards.

For those unfamiliar with GDL programs, they work by allowing young drivers to gain privileges as they progress through each phase: (1) Learner’s stage; (2) Intermediate Stage; and (3) Full Licensing Stage. Illinois’ GDL laws are as follows:

  • At age 15, a learner’s permit can be obtained with parental consent and enrollment in a state-approved driver’s education course. The permit must be held for 9 months, during which time the driver must complete 50 hours of supervised driving, including 10 hours at night (excluding between 10pm and 6am on weekdays or 11pm and 6am on weekends).
  • At age 16, and upon completion of the learner’s stage requirements, drivers who have not acquired any traffic violations or underage alcohol-related convictions, are eligible for the intermediate stage (provisional licensing). During this time, drivers must still adhere to the same nighttime driving restrictions as the learner’s stage, and for the first 12 months, cannot carry more than 1 passenger younger than 20 (unless a family member).
  • At age 18, drivers that have maintained a conviction-free driving record for 6 months prior to turning 18, become eligible for full-licensing. The use of mobile devices are prohibited until age 19, and texting while driving is prohibited, regardless of age.

While in comparison to other states, Illinois GDL laws are fairly strict, they could be even stronger. For example, some states make drivers wait until they are older to obtain a permit or provisional licensing; require more hours of supervised driving; prohibit passengers altogether (except family) for a certain duration or until driver reaches a certain age; and/or place more limitations on nighttime driving.

In contrast, many states have very weak GDL laws. For example, some states allow drivers to get a permit as early as age 14, and/or a provisional license at 15. In most states, the minimum duration a permit must be held is only 6 months. A few states have absolutely no supervised driving requirements, and close to a third require 40 hours or less. Four states have no restrictions on passengers whatsoever, and many states lift passenger restrictions after only 6 months. More than 20 states allow teens to drive unsupervised at night until midnight or later, and many states lift nighttime driving restrictions as early as age 16, or after only 6 months. Several states enforce nighttime driving and passenger-related violations on a secondary basis only, meaning that the driver must be pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding. The majority of states allow eligibility for full licensing by age 16 or 17.

Safety experts argue that GDL laws are far too lenient in most states. The IIHS estimates that 500 fatalities and 9,500 collisions could be prevented amongst teen drivers, if every state adopted each of the following GDL laws:

  • Minimum Permit Age – 16 years old
  • Minimum Provisional License Age – 17 years old
  • Minimum Hours of Supervised Driving – 65+ hours
  • Start-time of Nighttime Driving Restrictions – 8 pm
  • Passenger Restrictions – No teen passengers

Despite the known benefits of GDL laws, no state has yet to adopt ALL five IIHS recommendations. Although some states are close to reaching this goal, others have significant room for improvement. South Dakota leads the list of states with the weakest GDL laws—they allow a permit at age 14 and a provisional license at 14 ½ (or 3 months earlier w/ driver’s education)—there are no passenger restrictions—no requirement to complete a minimum # of supervised driving hours—and the nighttime driving restrictions (10 pm-6 pm) are lifted at age 16, at which age, the teen-driver becomes eligible for full licensing. According to IIHS, teen driving fatalities could be reduced by 63%, and collisions by 38%, if South Dakota were to enact the five recommended GDL provisions. Several other states could see similar reductions, by doing the same.

Even states with moderately strong GDL laws are seeing drastic improvements. Illinois, for example has seen a 57% decrease in teen driving fatalities since its GDL program took effect in 2008—demonstrating the benefits of GDL laws, even when they fall short of IIHS standards. The bottom line—GDL laws are a proven effective solution to reducing collisions and fatalities amongst teen drivers—and the stronger these law are, the better the results.

If you or a loved one were harmed in a car accident, know your rights and take measures to protect them. Contact the Chicago Injury Lawyers of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. online, or by calling us at 773-516-4100, and allow our legal team to evaluate your case at no cost to you.


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