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GDL Recommended Age for Intermediate License

Currently the GDL recommended age requirement for an intermediate license varies by state and ranges from 14 to 17 years. To qualify for MAP-21 GDL incentive funding, a state needs to require a minimum entry age of 17 years and that driver must hold that license for a period of 6 months, not expiring before age 18. Recent expert consensus recommends a holding period of 12 months.

Evidence concerning licensing patterns, socioeconomic disparities, and public opinion indicates it is time that GDL should extend to at least age 21 in order to protect a significant minority of teens that delay licensure.

At least one in three teens delay getting a license until after age 18 and, thus, do so without the protective benefits of GDL, beyond basic learner requirements (New Jersey is the exception). In two very different studies – one an analysis of New Jersey's administrative licensing database, the other a nationally representative survey of teens – researchers found similar and stark differences in socioeconomic status.

Disparities in Licensing

While virtually all 18- to 20-year-old New Jersey residents in the state's highest income areas are licensed by age 21, more than one in three residents in the lowest income areas are not licensed by that age. Forty percent of all New Jersey residents – and half of those eventually licensed by age 21 – obtain a license in the first month they are eligible, but this looks very different for income by zip code:

  • Among those living in the lowest-income zip codes, only 13 percent are licensed within one month of turning 17, and only 36 percent are licensed by age 18.
  • 65 percent of those living in NJ's highest-income zip codes are licensed immediately upon turning 17 and 78 percent are licensed within six months.

In the national survey of young adults ages 18 to 20, 54 percent had obtained a license by their 18th birthday. But only 25 percent of teens from households with an annual income of less than $20,000 had a license by age 18. Also in the national survey, 67 percent of white teens, 37 percent of black teens, and 29 percent of Hispanic teens were licensed by age 18. The New Jersey study had a similar assessment.

Delaying Licensure is a Steady Trend

The New Jersey study found similar rates of licensure between 2006 and 2011. Fewer than one in four teens cite reasons related to special driving requirements for young new drivers in their decision to delay licensure.

Multiple public opinion surveys show support for extending GDL to higher ages and making it about experience as well as age. In addition to legislative solutions, education programs targeting older teens and young adults need to reach beyond high school settings. Disparities suggest that these programs need to be affordable and accessible.

a happy teen with intermediate license

Boost Your State's GDL

Share this fact sheet with policymakers to extend the age requirement for the Intermediate Licensure Phase of GDL
to age 21

Read a blog post about new evidence to help support policymakers as they consider improving GDL in their state

Further reading:

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