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what is a probationary license?

What is a Probationary License?

Studies show that drivers are at their highest lifetime crash risk the day they drive home alone from the DMV with their probationary license. As part of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs, probationary licenses provide temporary restrictions to protect newly licensed drivers from this high crash risk.

What is a probationary license? Also known as a “provisional,” “junior” or “intermediate” license depending on the state issuing it, this type of license includes certain limitations on driving for a period of time to help new drivers gain experience under safe conditions. These restrictions work by reducing teens’ exposure to known factors associated with crash risk [LINK TO: Teen Crash Risks & Prevention page] during their first months of independent driving. This gives them time to develop skills and maturity under safer conditions. There are two key provisions that have been proven to reduce fatalities among new drivers: nighttime driving and driving with peer passengers.

In 2016, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia published a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that found most newly licensed teens do indeed follow the provisions of a probationary license, with 92 percent of trips in compliance with the passenger restriction and 97 percent in compliance with the nighttime restriction.

Nighttime Driving Restrictions

All states place some restriction on driving at night for probationary license holders. Many start at midnight, but research shows teens’ fatal nighttime crash rates are highest between 9 p.m. and midnight. Thus, many states have been changing this provision to start earlier to prevent more nighttime crashes. Still, half of the states with GDL laws in place do not restrict driving until midnight or later. So it’s up to parents to set earlier restrictions for their newly licensed drivers.

According to an American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement, fatal nighttime crashes among teen drivers are more likely to be associated with multiple teenage passengers, speeding, and alcohol use. Although it is inherently more difficult to drive in the dark for drivers of all ages, fatigue and lack of practice may play a greater role for teenagers. Click here to read more about nighttime crash statistics.

Peer Passenger Restrictions

All but five states have a restriction on driving peer passengers during the first six to 12 months of driving with a probationary license. Several states lift the restriction upon turning 18 years old, regardless of months with a probationary license. 

Peer passengers are a deadly distraction. Just one teen passenger doubles the risk a teen driver will get into a fatal crash; three or more passengers quadruple the risk.

A study published in 2012 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety re-ran these analyses with updated data and found that the high fatality rates have not changed much.

Another CHOP/State Farm study found that starting at ages 12 to 14, a passenger’s risk of dying in a crash with a teen driver doubles, and the risk continues to rise for each teenage year. Most teen passengers that died in crashes were riding with teen drivers.

Perhaps more astounding: Most teens do not consider themselves inexperienced drivers. Although 60 percent of teens believe inexperience heavily influences driving safety, only 15 percent consider their peers inexperienced. According to other qualitative research conducted by CHOP, teens may incorrectly associate having a license with experience, leading to a false sense of safety.

Learn more about trends in peer passenger safety.

Pick Your Practice

With a couple of clicks, think about what skills you would like to practice first as a learner driver, and we’ll point you to videos and tips on how to practice them. Take this online driving quiz to Pick Your Practice!

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