Graduated Driver's License Laws

Graduated Driver's License Laws Peggy Kelley Thu, 10/25/2018 - 03:49 PM EDT


Graduated driver’s license (GDL) laws require new drivers to move through a series of stages before obtaining full driving privileges. Most states require new drivers to demonstrate responsible driving behavior during two stages of licensing—supervised learner’s permit followed by intermediate or provisional license—before advancing to the unrestricted or full license. All states impose some type of graduated licensing, but the specific requirements vary.


  • To help new drivers gain skills under low-risk conditions
  • To reduce opportunities for underage drinking and driving

Typical Elements

  • Providing a learner’s permit to a potential driver at age 16 or older (Compton & Ellison-Potter, 2008).
  • Establishing a learning stage, lasting at least six months with a minimum of 70 hours of supervised driving. Common requirements include:
    • Learner passes vision and knowledge tests (e.g., questions on rules of the road, signs, and signals).
    • Learner completes basic vehicle skills training.
    • Learner has a licensed adult (at least 21 years old) in the vehicle at all times.
    • All occupants wear safety belts.
    • No teenage passengers are allowed.
      • Note: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of novice drivers (Bingham, Shope, Parow, & Raghunathan, 2009; Cooper, Atkins, & Gillen, 2005; Tefft, Williams, & Grabowski, 2013).
    • ​Adult must certify completion of practice hours.
    • Learner remains crash- and conviction-free for at least six months to advance to the next stage.
  • Stipulating that an intermediate (or provisional) stage of driving will last until age 18, with strict night driving and passenger restrictions. Common requirements include:
    • New driver passes a behind-the-wheel road test.
    • New driver completes advanced driver education training (e.g., safe decision-making, risk education).
    • New driver has a licensed adult in the vehicle during late-night hours (e.g., after 8pm).
      • Note: This restriction is designed to reduce the risk of late-night driving as well as drinking and driving by young, new drivers (Bingham et al., 2009; Fell, Todd, & Voas, 2011).
    • ​All occupants wear safety belts.
    • Teenage passenger restrictions apply. Only one teen passenger for the first 12 months of intermediate licensure and a limit of two teen passengers until 18 years old.
    • New driver remains crash- and conviction-free for at least 12 consecutive months to advance to the next stage.
  • Additional restrictions (implemented by some states) such as prohibiting cell phone use and texting while driving.
  • Various communication and educational techniques to increase parental awareness of the purpose and requirements of GDL laws as well as to increase parental enforcement of restrictions that are difficult for law enforcement agencies to monitor, such as nighttime driving restrictions and adult supervision requirements (Foss & Goodwin, 2003; Steenbergen et al., 2001).


Youth under age 21, typically those earning their license to drive for the first time (age differs across states)


  • Implementation of GDL laws in the United States has been associated with:
    • Decreased driving after drinking any alcohol and riding in a car with a driver who has been drinking alcohol (Cavazos-Rehg et al., 2012)
    • Fewer alcohol-related crashes one year after implementation (Hartling et al., 2004)
  • Compared to drivers in other age groups, nighttime driving restrictions appeared to yield relative reductions in alcohol-involved crashes among 16- and 17-year olds (Fell et al., 2011).
  • Implementation of more restrictive GDL laws has been associated with more pronounced reductions in adverse outcomes for teenage drivers (e.g., Cavazos-Rehg, et al., 2012; Chen, Baker, & Li, 2006; Fell, Jones, Romano, & Voas, 2011; Ferguson, Williams, & Preusser, 1996; Masten, Fos, & Marshall, 2011; McCartt, Teoh, Fields, Braitman, & Hellinga, 2010). For example, reductions in crash-related fatalities among teenage drivers have been associated with the GDL laws that include five or more of the following requirements (Chen et al., 2006):
    • Minimum age for a learner’s permit
    • Mandatory waiting period before applying for an intermediate license
    • Minimum hours of supervised driving
    • Minimum age for an intermediate license
    • Nighttime restriction
    • Passenger limitation
    • Minimum age for full licensing


A Guide to Zero Tolerance and Graduated Licensing: Two Strategies that Work

Effective Dates of Graduated Licensing Laws

GDL Crash Reduction Calculator

Graduated Driver Licensing

Graduated Driver Licensing System

Graduated Licensing Of Teenage Drivers

Teenagers: Driving Carries Extra Risk for Them


No recognition found for role of GDL laws in preventing underage drinking and/or its consequences.


Bingham, C. R., Shope, J. T., Parow, J. E., & Raghunathan, T. E. (2009). Crash types: Markers of increased risk of alcohol-involved crashes among teen drivers. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 70(4), 528.

Cavazos‐Rehg, P. A., Krauss, M. J., Spitznagel, E. L., Chaloupka, F. J., Schootman, M., Grucza, R. A., & Bierut, L. J. (2012). Associations between selected state laws and teenagers’ drinking and driving behaviors. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 36(9), 1647–1652.

Chen, L. H., Baker, S. P., & Li, G. (2006). Graduated driver licensing programs and fatal crashes of 16-year-old drivers: A national evaluation. Pediatrics, 118(1), 56–62.

Compton, R. P., & Ellison-Potter, P. (2008, July). Teen driver crashes: A report to Congress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Retrieved from

Cooper, D., Atkins, F., & Gillen, D. (2005). Measuring the impact of passenger restrictions on new teenage drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 37(1), 19–23.

Fell, J. C., Jones, K., Romano, E., & Voas, R. (2011). An evaluation of graduated driver licensing effects on fatal crash involvements of young drivers in the United States. Traffic Injury Prevention, 12(5), 423–431.

Fell, J. C., Todd, M., & Voas, R. B. (2011). A national evaluation of the nighttime and passenger restriction components of graduated driver licensing. Journal of Safety Research, 42(4), 283–290.

Ferguson, S. A., Williams, A. F., & Preusser, D. F. (1996). Differences in young driver crash involvement in states with varying licensure practices. Accident Analysis and Prevention 28, 171–180.

Foss, R., & Goodwin, A. (2003). Enhancing the effectiveness of graduated driver licensing legislation. Journal of Safety Research, 34(1), 79–84.

Hartling, L., Wiebe, N., Russell, K., Petruk, J., Spinola, C., & Klassen, T. P. (2004). Graduated driver licensing for reducing motor vehicle crashes among young drivers. The Cochrane Library, 2. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Masten, S. V., Foss, R. D., & Marshall, S. W. (2011). Graduated driver licensing and fatal crashes involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers. Journal of the American Medical Association, 306(10), 1098–1103.

McCartt, A. T., Teoh, E. R., Fields, M., Braitman, K. A., & Hellinga, L. A. (2010). Graduated licensing laws and fatal crashes of teenage drivers: A national study. Traffic Injury Prevention, 11(3), 240–248.

Steenbergen, L. C., Kidd, P. S., Pollack, S., McCoy, C., Pigman, J. G., & Agent, K. R. (2001). Kentucky’s graduated driver licensing program for young drivers: Barriers to effective local implementation. Injury Prevention, 7(4), 286–291.

Tefft, B. C., Williams, A. F., & Grabowski, J. G. (2013). Teen driver risk in relation to age and number of passengers. Traffic Injury Prevention,14(3), 283–92.