By advocating for stronger driver safety policy, such as better Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws, teen drivers -- and everyone on the road -- will be safer. Motor vehicle crashes remain one of leading causes of injury and death for teens in the United States, but a majority of these crashes could be prevented by improving GDL policies.
Over the past two decades, legislative progress has been made, but research shows we can do better. You can help keep teen driver safety on everyone’s agenda. Become an effective agent of change by advocating for evidence-based teen driver safety policy, including better GDL systems in your state.
What is GDL?
Graduated Driver Licensing, commonly referred to as GDL, is an experience-based method for beginning drivers to earn driving privileges that are introduced in phases. This state licensing policy works by keeping teens out of high-risk driving situations, such as driving at night or with multiple peer passengers, while they are given the chance to develop driving skills in lower-risk situations. GDL offers teens the opportunity to gain needed on-road experience before driving under more challenging conditions. Read more about optimal GDL policy.
Why Advocate for GDL?
GDL is one of the few interventions proven effective at reducing fatal teen driver-related crashes. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), states with comprehensive GDL programs in place report as much as a 40% drop in the number of fatal crashes among 16-year-old drivers. In fact, NHTSA reported a 43% decrease in total fatalities in crashes with young drivers (ages 15 to 20 years) over a 10-year period from 2006 to 2015 -- from 8,211 to 4,702.
Since 2000, most states have worked to improve their GDL by extending the learner permit period, as well as adding peer passenger and nighttime restrictions to the provisional license -- to great effect. Although these three components of GDL separately contribute to reduced crash rates, GDL programs that combine all three may result in the highest crash reductions among novice teen drivers.
Research conducted at CHOP suggests that requiring new drivers to adhere to GDL provisions through age 20 reduces crash risk for older novice drivers. It is worth exploring if extending GDL requirements through age 20 years will help reduce crashes in your state.
How to Advocate for Better GDL Laws
It’s hard to get a law passed on your own. Tap into these resources to get started:
- Learn more about the current GDL system in your state. Also check your state government website for any pending legislation to see if the bill or bills align with recommended Minimum GDL Provisions. Contact the bill sponsor’s office to check on the status of the bill. Ask how you can specifically help.
- Take action. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a Graduated Driver Licensing System Planning Guide that can assist states to assess, develop, and implement actionable plans to strengthen Graduated Driver Licensing practices. Use this resource to help develop a strategy for your state. In 2023 the Governors Highway Safety Office (GHSA) published a report, Young Drivers and Traffic Fatalities: 20 Years of Progress On the Road to Zero, that includes an analysis of Fatality Analysis Reporting System data for 2002-2021 and identifies the policies and programs responsible for the gains in teen driver safety and makes recommendations for building upon that success. Read the report to take action to strengthen GDL in your state.
- Consider effective framing of the issue. The words you use when speaking with policymakers and in media interviews matter. Your state already has a law in place featuring at least the basic GDL provisions. Rather than speak about passing news laws, reframe your message to say that you seek to upgrade your state’s existing GDL system to align with today’s state of the science of what we know protects novice teen drivers from crashing. Say these provisions are beneficial in that they protect teens and other road users from being in crash. Avoid words like “restrictions” and “penalties” and use words like “protect” and “gradual increase in driving privileges.”
- See if your state qualifies for incentive grants. Your state’s legislators and transportation officials are likely aware of NHTSA’s incentive grants for states that meet minimum requirements for GDL laws. The “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” or FAST Act, became law in December 2015 and specifies current national priority safety program requirements. To see if your state qualifies, click here and scroll to TITLE IV--HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY (Sec. 4005).