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GDL Laws

Parents may not know where to start when it comes to setting driving rules for their teens. The best place to begin is by learning about Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws. Although GDL provisions vary by state, all GDL laws are in place to ensure teens gradually and safely gain the experience they need. GDL laws are effective because they  keep teens out of high-risk driving situations (such as at night or with peer passengers) while giving them the chance to develop driving skills in lower-risk situations (such as during the day or without peer passengers).

States with comprehensive GDL provisions in place report as much as a 40 percent drop in the number of fatal crashes among 16-year-old drivers. Encourage parents to enforce their state's GDL laws.

In addition to GDL, it's good for adults working with teen drivers to be aware of state laws, especially those that have been shown to directly impact teens. States enforce either primary or secondary restrictions. Primary laws allow law enforcement officials to stop a vehicle and issue a citation strictly for a single infraction. Secondary laws allow law enforcement officials to only issue a citation if the vehicle is stopped for another violation.

  • Seat Belt Laws: Teens have the lowest seat belt use of any age group, making the enforcement of these laws extremely important. Seat belt laws vary by state. But in states where primary seat belt laws are in place, seat belt use is about 10 percent higher than in those with no primary seat belt laws.
  • Substance Abuse: Since 1988, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enforced a legal drinking age of 21. Zero tolerance laws set a limit of .02 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or lower for drivers under age 21. The .02 limit is equivalent to about one drink for the average person. Raising the drinking age has been confirmed to be effective. The first four states to reduce the legal BAC limit for young drivers experienced a 34 percent decline in nighttime fatal crashes among young drivers.
  • Cell Phone Use: Crash risk is four times higher when a driver uses a cell phone, whether or not it's hands-free. Coupled with the dangers of texting behind the wheel (which one in four American teen drivers admit to doing), cell phones are one of the most dangerous distractions facing young drivers. As of March 2013, 10 states, the District of Columbia (DC), Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands have instituted a hand-held cell phone ban for all drivers, with all but two of them making it a primary offense. No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 34 states and DC ban all cell phone use by novice drivers. Texting while driving is  banned  in 39 states, DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam, with all but four of them making it a primary offense.

GDL laws in action: parent and teen driving lesson

Click here for detailed information on GDL and other laws that impact teen driver safety.

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