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16-Year-Old Drivers Involved in 38 Percent Fewer Fatal Crashes in States With The Most Comprehensive GDL Programs, Says AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety

Study Supports Earlier Automobile Club of Southern California Analysis of California GDL Law

(LOS ANGELES, Feb. 15, 2007) – Sixteen-year-old drivers are involved in 38 percent fewer fatal crashes and 40 percent fewer injury crashes if their state has a graduated driver licensing (GDL) program with at least five of seven common components, according to a study released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The study echoes an earlier California GDL analysis by the Automobile Club of Southern California.

"The AAA Foundation study adds more weight to the perspective that teen driver safety can be affected through well-designed legislation," said the Auto Club's senior researcher Steven A. Bloch, Ph.D. "California's was one of the first GDL programs implemented in the U.S. and it's been improved over the years as studies like the Foundation's and ours have shown us how to make it more effective."

AAA Foundation results were announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C. this morning, where the new research was released. The Foundation commissioned the study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to better understand the ability of legislation to make a difference in teen driver safety. It also looked at the involvement of 16-year-old drivers in fatal and injury crashes, and sought to identify characteristics common to effective programs. The report "Nationwide Review of Graduated Driver Licensing," is available online at

The seven basic GDL components that were included as criteria in the AAA Foundation study are:

  • A minimum age of at least 16 years for receiving a learner's permit. (California's is 15 ? years.)
  • A requirement to hold the learner's permit for at least 6 months before receiving a license that allows any unsupervised driving. (California's component is identical.)
  • A requirement for certification of at least 30 hours of supervised driving practice during the learner stage. (California's exceeds this requirement with a minimum of 50 hours.)
  • An intermediate stage of licensing with a minimum entry age of at least 16 years and 6 months. (California's Provisional [intermediate] License stage can begin as early as 16 years of age.)
  • A nighttime driving restriction for intermediate license holders beginning no later than 10 p.m. (California strengthened its nighttime restriction on Jan. 1, 2006 by pushing back its midnight rule to 11 p.m.)
  • A passenger restriction for intermediate license holders, allowing no more than one passenger (except family members). (California's provisional license is stricter, with no passengers permitted except for family need.)
  • A minimum age of 17 years for full, unrestricted licensure. (California's requirement is identical.)

During the 1994-2004 study period no state had more than five GDL components in effect. As of today (Feb. 15), Delaware has all seven components, and Kentucky, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia have six. California has four. AAA Foundation research will continue on which components in the GDL law system provide the most benefit to novice teen drivers.

Additional research results include:

  • In states with GDL programs that have four of the seven components, 16-year-old drivers were involved in 21 percent fewer fatal crashes and 36 percent fewer injury crashes.
  • Three-stage GDL programs are more effective at reducing crash rates than GDL programs that do not include three stages of licensure. In the states with three-stage GDL programs, 16-year-old drivers were involved in 11 percent fewer fatal crashes, and 19 percent fewer crashes with injuries.

During the first two years after 16-year-olds were fully licensed under the California GDL law, teen passenger deaths and injuries when 16-year-olds were behind the wheel declined 40 percent statewide and 47 percent in Los Angeles County, according to an Auto Club analysis. Also, the number of fatal and injury crashes in which 16-year-old drivers were at fault dropped 24 percent, the analysis found.

It's estimated that California's passenger restriction prevented nearly 700 deaths and injuries statewide in the first three years after the Golden State's GDL law took effect. An important reason for this reduction was that the number of teen passengers carried by 16-year-old drivers declined by an estimated 25 percent after the law took effect, according to an AAA analysis. The same analysis showed that teen drivers with passengers were significantly more at risk of causing a crash than solo teen drivers.

California implemented its three-stage GDL program in 1998, changing the licensing procedure for teens to let them gain driving experience gradually, while limiting their exposure to risky driving situations. The Auto Club of Southern California and its northern California counterpart co-sponsored the legislation. Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have enacted three-stage GDL systems, and all states have some form of GDL.

A typical three-stage GDL program comprises a learner stage, during which all driving must be supervised; followed by an intermediate stage, during which unsupervised driving is permitted except under certain conditions (such as at night or with passengers); and finally full, unrestricted licensure.


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The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.