One of the most successful innovations in the effort to reduce teen traffic fatalities has been the adoption of graduated driver licensing (GDL) in every state. Under these GDL systems, teens are not granted full driving privileges right away. Instead, they progress through stages, with restrictions gradually lifted as teens become more experienced.
While each state sets its own specific GDL provisions, the basic structure is the same almost everywhere:
1) Teens first get a learner’s permit, which allows them to drive only when a parent or other adult is in the car with them.
2) Next, teens get an intermediate license, which allows them to drive unsupervised, but with certain restrictions in place.
3) Finally, after a certain amount of time or when they reach a certain age, teens can receive a full, unrestricted license.
This tiered approach limits the risk teens are exposed to when they are first learning to drive, so that they have gained some practice and experience by the time they confront more hazardous situations.
One circumstance that nearly every state’s GDL system places restrictions on is night driving. The combination of reduced visibility, glare, fatigue, impaired drivers, and other factors makes night time particularly hazardous for teens, who are not yet accustomed to managing risks behind the wheel. In fact, driving at night doubles teens’ chances of getting in a deadly crash. And it’s not just late-night driving that’s dangerous: along with the hours right after school gets out, the most common time for teen traffic fatalities to occur is between 9 pm and midnight.
So how can we protect teens from night time crashes? It’s important to know what time your state’s night restrictions take effect. In nearly half the states, they don’t begin until midnight or later; safety experts, however, agree that teen safety would be improved greatly if restrictions kicked in at 9 or 10 pm. If you’re a parent, you can always decide to set house rules requiring your teen to be off the road earlier than state law requires.
Night driving restrictions are not the same as curfews. They are not about keeping teens out of trouble so much as they are about keeping them alive. Visit our web site, www.aaafoundation.org, to learn about our work in teen safety. For additional resources for parents and teens, visit www.teendriving.aaa.com.