David G. Smith
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Teen Drivers: Rules of the Road

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The Governors Highway Safety Association says that novice and teen drivers have higher crash rates. To help lower these stats, all states except Washington DC have adopted Graduated Driver's License (GDL) programs. These programs allow young drivers to gain experience before they hit the road free and clear.

California adopted its GDL program in 1998. Why? Teenage drivers crash more than older drivers due to their lack of skill, inexperience, a tendency toward risk-taking, and inaccurate risk perception. GDL programs attempt to mitigate the damage with modified driver's license programs that focus on improving skills, while at the same time reduce exposure to high-risk situations such as night driving or driving with other teen passengers (talk about distraction!)

California's GDL program involves a supervised practice period, a license with restrictions, and special license requirements.

Provisional permit

Teens between age 15-and-a-half and 17-and-a-half can apply for a provisional permit. To receive a permit, teens must complete a Driver's Education course and pass a written test. With a provisional permit, teens can drive only when a parent, guardian, spouse, or adult age 25 or older is with them. This is the practice phase.

Restricted license

When teens reach age 16 or hold a permit for six months or more, they can take a hands-on driving test-but only if they have completed driver education, six hours of professional driver training, and 50 hours of practice with an adult (including 10 night hours). After they've done all of that, they can get a driver's license.

The first year

Armed with that first driver's license, teens are not completely free to go. During the first year, they can't have other teen passengers with them unless an adult rides along. And they can't drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. at all. There are a few exceptions, such as medical or employment necessity; in those cases, they have to have a note from the doctor or employer.

The senior year

After a year of restricted driving, or when a teen turns 18, the provisional requirements end. Teens are free to drive day or night with what is now a standard driver's license.

A new driver may think all of the driver's education and practice time is a pain in the you-know-what, but it's clear that the process leads to fewer crashes.

A 2003 survey conducted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles reports that crashes among teens steadily declined from 1994 to 2001. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that GDL programs are associated with reductions of 38 percent and 40 percent in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers.

That's worth a few hours of boring classes and drives with a white-knuckled parent.

Of course, all the education in the world can't prevent every accident. If you or your child has been injured in an auto accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for a free consultation.

Photo courtesy of State Farm.

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David G. Smith
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Oakland, CA 94612

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