A report released last month from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) laws are helping to reduce deaths among teenage drivers across the country.
I introduced the legislation creating Wisconsin’s GDL system in 1999 after a family from Ripon contacted me. Their son had been killed in a car accident and they believed something needed to be done to help teenagers become safer drivers. After talking with them and doing my own research on the subject, I decided that we needed to find a way to help young drivers become safe drivers.
Wisconsin’s GDL law applies to drivers between ages 15 and 18 There are three main provisions of Wisconsin’s GDL law.
First, teenagers must hold their learner’s permit for six months without receiving a ticket. During that time, they are required to practice driving with an adult for at least 30 hours, which must include at least 10 hours at night.
At the end of six months, and after they take a driver’s education class, they are eligible to take their driving test. For the first nine months that they hold their probationary license they are restricted in terms of when they may drive and how many passengers they can have.
Under the second major provision of the GDL law, these new drivers can have one non-family passenger with them and cannot drive between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. unless they are going between home and school or home and work.
The third major provision on the GDL law is that these restrictions can be extended past the initial nine months if the driver violates these provisions or if they are convicted of a traffic violation, or their license is suspended or revoked.
In Wisconsin, we have seen that the law works. For 16 year olds, during the first three years after we passed the law, we saw that they were 15 percent less likely to get into a traffic crash, 18 percent less likely to be in a fatal crash, and 20 percent less likely to be in an injury crash that didn’t involve a fatality. In addition, they were 12 percent less likely to be in a crash that resulted in property damage.
GDL laws work because they give young drivers time to develop their skills under the supervision of parents or other adults before they take on the responsibility of driving with a group of friends in the car.
According to the new study, GDL laws are working to reduce the number of teenagers who die in car accidents. Between 1996 and 2010, the death rate of 16 year old drivers dropped 68 percent. Older teenagers also saw a downward trend in deaths behind the wheel. The rate for 17 year old drivers dropped 59 percent, 18 year old drivers dropped 52 percent and 19 year old drivers dropped 47 percent. For the first time, the death rate of 16 year old drivers was lower than those of drivers between the ages of 30 and 59.
Since the GDL bill became law in 2000, we have discovered another factor that increases the risks of teenage driving; the use of cell phones while driving.
In addition to the statewide ban on texting while driving that is applicable to all drivers, I co-authored a bill this session to prohibit drivers with a learner’s permit or probationary license from using a cell phone with except to report an emergency. This new law will go into effect on Nov. 1. The penalty for cell phone use for these new drivers is a fine of between $20 and $40 for the first violation and a fine of between $50 and $100 for each additional violation within a year.
We learned with the Graduated Driver’s License law that teenagers need extra time to practice and develop their skills before they introduce additional distractions, be they friends, late night driving or cell phones.