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Enforcing the Proven Benefits of Graduated Driver Licensing

Car crashes are the number-one killer of teens. That’s a startling statistic that should concern every parent of a soon-to-be or newly licensed teen driver.


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Car crashes are the number-one killer of teens. That’s a startling statistic that should concern every parent of a soon-to-be or newly licensed teen driver. I have to confess, as the mother of a 17-year-old son who has been driving solo since August, it keeps me up at night. 

The good news is that NJ parents have an effective tool to address their novice drivers’ safety—graduated driver licensing (GDL). Enacted in our state in 2001, the three-phase licensing program (permit, probationary/restricted license, basic/unrestricted license) helps teens build skills while minimizing those things that cause them the greatest risk (i.e., distraction prompted by technology and their peers, driving at night, and not buckling up). Thanks to graduated driver licensing, over the past decade teen driver and teen passenger fatalities in New Jersey have been cut in half. 

The key to GDL’s effectiveness is parents. Simply put, parents are the chief enforcer of the provisions outlined under the state’s program. It’s up to us to ensure that teens understand the crash risk (it’s four times higher than for any other age group on the road). We also need to make sure they know why they not only can’t but shouldn’t transport multiple passengers, drive late at night, use electronic devices, or fail to wear a seat belt. Researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and the Centers for Disease Control agree these provisions should be non-negotiable because they significantly affect your teen’s safety.

House Rules

In my home, we have a parent-teen agreement that clearly spells out 12 non-negotiable items, from taking no more than one passenger (my son couldn’t transport any friend for the first 60 days of licensure) and being back home before 11 pm, to no texting or talking on a cell phone behind the wheel or driving when tired.

Also, the agreement says our son pays the fine if he’s cited for a GDL or other moving violation, which also carries a parent-imposed license suspension. 

The agreement, which is posted on our refrigerator, is a daily reminder of the rules that are in place not to prohibit him from driving (he drives nearly every day), but to keep him safe. So far, so good. He did have an altercation with a tree branch on the way to school one morning, but thankfully the only casualty was the passenger-side mirror.

Teens who report having parents who set clear rules and monitor their activities in a helpful, supportive way (what CHOP dubs “authoritative” parents) are half as likely to crash, 71 percent less likely to drive intoxicated, and 30 percent less likely to use a cell phone when driving. And recognizing how effective seat belts are in preventing serious injury and death in the event of a crash, these same teens are 50 percent more likely to buckle up and recognize why doing so is important.

Safe driving practices have made a positive impact ->

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What's GDL?

Does your teen know the rules of the (probationary) road?

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