Poll Shows Support for Proposed Teen Licensing Standards

Nearly 60 percent of Americans favor federal legislation that would set minimum standards for licensing of teen drivers in all 50 states, according to a survey from Allstate Insurance.

The phone survey of 1,000 people found that support for uniform standards in state graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs corresponded with low opinions of teenagers’ skills behind the wheel. Eighty-one percent of respondents rated teen drivers as “average” or “poor,” the worst ratings by far for any age group.

“Results from this survey show that Americans clearly understand that GDL laws can help save lives and that a majority of them support a legislative solution that safely introduces teen drivers to the road,” Bill Vainisi, Allstate’s senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement.

GDL standardization is a topic of ongoing discussion in the nation’s capital.

One bill introduced this year in the U.S. Senate known as the STANDUP ACT would establish a minimum standard for GDL programs and require states to meet that threshold in order to be eligible for full federal highway-aid funding. Another bill introduced this year to allocate funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also includes standards for GDL laws. Each has received support from safety groups and various auto insurance companies.

Teen driverBoth pieces of legislation would allocate $44 million in grants over the next two years to help states strengthen their GDL standards, with the funding being used to train state officials, publish materials about new GDL laws and carry out teen traffic-safety programs.

Drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older motorists to be involved in a crash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Auto accidents account for 1 in 3 teen deaths nationwide, making them the leading cause of death for that age group.

Teen crashes also rack up billions of dollars in economic costs annually, according to the CDC, a fact that has helped make auto insurance for teenagers extremely expensive.

Safety experts say GDL programs, which delay full licensure until teen drivers get experience under low-risk conditions, can drastically reduce those risks. According to the CDC, comprehensive GDL systems are associated with reductions of 38 percent in fatal crashes and 40 percent in nonfatal crashes among 16-year-old drivers.

GDL programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia include three phases that young drivers must pass through in order to be granted full driving privileges, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Those phases include a supervised learner’s period, an intermediate license (once the state’s driving test is passed) that limits unsupervised driving and a full license after the first two stages are completed.

But the specifics of those systems, and laws related to teen driving in general, differ widely between states.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 49 states and the District of Columbia have laws restricting nighttime driving on the part of teens, a key GDL component.

But while in Idaho that means no driving for intermediate- and restricted-licensed teens between sunset and sunrise, Alaska’s GDL system bars young motorists from being on the road between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. In Delaware, meanwhile, the restriction is from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to the IIHS.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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