The Case for Graduated Licensing: Younger Drivers at Risk

Why Guam Has a Graduated Licensing Law, (and why we support it)



Statistics show that teen drivers are at risk. Drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 account for 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 14 percent of all fatal crashes. Their lack of driving experience and tendency to take risks contribute to this high fatality rate.

Driving is a complicated task and becomes more complicated each year as the driving environment becomes more complex on Guam.

Many states and countries have turned to graduated licensing laws as a partial solution to the disproportionate numbers of young people involved in crashes.

Graduated licensing is a licensing system that allows young drivers more on-the-road driving experience in lower-risk settings, increases learning time and gradually introduces young drivers to more complex driving situations.

Student drivers are trusted with more freedoms and responsibilities as they master previous steps in the program.

Parents, safety advocates, law enforcement officials and medical professionals are among those that support graduated licensing laws.


It's a system designed to phase in young beginners to full driving privileges as they mature and develop their driving skills. Versions of graduated licensing exist in New Zealand, Australia and Canada. More recently, graduated licensing has been introduced in at least 35 of the U.S. states. There are three stages to a full graduated system, and beginners must remain in each of the first two stages for set minimum time periods: supervised learner's period; intermediate license (after the driver test is passed) limiting unsupervised driving in high-risk situations; and then a license with full privileges, available after completing the first two stages. The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances has developed a model graduated licensing law using recommendations from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and other national organizations. The model law calls for a minimum of six months in the learner's stage and a minimum of six months in the intermediate stage with night driving restrictions. Key elements of the intermediate stage include limits on late-night unsupervised driving and transporting teenage passengers. Certification that a learner's permit holder has driven a minimum number of supervised hours also is important.


The rationale for special policies for young beginning drivers is that their crash risk is particularly high. Sixteen-year-old drivers have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age, including older teenagers.

The very youngest drivers are most likely to engage in risky behaviors such as speeding and tailgating. Because of their inexperience, beginners are least able to cope with hazardous situations. When this is combined with their aggressive driving style, a high crash rate results.

The intention is not to pick on or punish young drivers. The logic of addressing all young people is that they all are beginners when they start driving. Every novice needs time to develop driving skills in low-risk settings. Furthermore, it is impossible to identify individual teens who are more at risk because most fatally injured young drivers don't have prior traffic violations or crashes on their records. In other words, their first crash is their last. We must consider all teen drivers to be at risk.

Two factors in particular work against young drivers: inexperience and immaturity. Young drivers need time to develop driving skills and the judgment to counteract their lack of on-the-road experience. Young drivers tend to be immature and impulsive, overestimating their own physical and driving abilities and underestimating dangers in the driving environment. This leads them to risky driving behaviors such as speeding, passing inappropriately, following too closely, and driving without seat belts. Young drivers frequently drive during nighttime high-risk hours, often with peers in the vehicle. Passengers can cause distractions and create peer pressure to participate in risky behavior. Teen passengers increase the crash risk for teenage drivers both during the day and at night. Considerable driving experience is required, after initial licensing, before a young novice achieves the dependable skills, judgment, and performance that result in safe driving.

Number of crash involvements per million miles of driving:

Age 20-24 - 9 crashes
Age 19 - 13 crashes
Age 18 - 14 crashes
Age 17 - 20 crashes
Age 16 - 35 crashes

43% of teenage motor vehicle deaths in 1998 occurred between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., but the majority of nighttime crashes occur in the hours before midnight.

In Florida, which instituted a graduated system for drivers younger than 18 in July 1996, there was a 9 percent reduction in fatal and injury crash involvement for 15-17 year-olds in 1997, the first full year of graduated licensing, compared with 1995. In Nova Scotia, crash reductions for 16-year olds ranged from 24 to 37 percent.

The following are comments by the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

as of April 2003

New drivers have elevated crash rates. This is particularly true for drivers younger than 18. Young novice drivers are at significant risk on the road because they lack both the judgment that comes with maturity and the skill that comes with experience. Graduated licensing is a system designed to delay full licensure while allowing beginners to obtain their initial experience under lower risk conditions. There are three stages: a minimum supervised learner's period, an intermediate license (once the driving test is passed) that limits unsupervised driving in high-risk situations, and a full-privilege driver's license available after completion of the first two stages. Beginners must remain in each of the first two stages for set minimum time periods. Forty-one North American jurisdictions (35 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, 4 Canadian provinces, and 1 Canadian territory) currently have all three stages, but the systems vary in strength.

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