Graduated License System Working, says IIHS

Getting a driver’s license can be very exciting for a teen, even with the driving restrictions imposed by the graduated license system. Although it can be a drag for aspiring teenage drivers, the limitations of the system provide an added peace of mind for their parents. But as is the case with many restriction-based programs, people wonder about its practical impact. Because these programs are now in full-effect in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., the statistical impact they create is becoming more apparent. And according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), they’re actually working pretty well.

History of the Graduated License System

In the United States, highway and other forms of transportation laws are established and enforced on a state-by-state basis, and the construction and implementation of such laws are the responsibility of the individual state governments.

The concept of a graduated licensing program in the United States began in the 1970s, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed a model to be used throughout the country. Although Maryland and California briefly introduced some elements of such a program, the models were never truly adopted at the time.

However, the system was pioneered in New Zealand in the late 1980s, and the United States quickly took note of its effectiveness. By the late 1990s, states throughout the U.S. had developed and implemented models of their own.

Three Steps to the Process*

*Although this system is in place in each state throughout the country, the laws vary state-to-state. Since the Davis Law Group is located in Washington, we will refer to the laws here in our home state in this post.

In Washington State, there are three separate steps to the graduated license system. At the age of 15, a child may apply to receive a learner’s permit if they are enrolled in a driver education course. If the teen is not enrolled in such a course, they cannot apply for a learner’s permit until they are 15 years, six months old.

The next step in the graduated license process is applying for a driver’s license. A person who has had their permit for at least six months, completed driver’s education – which requires 50 hours of supervised driving time, and ten of which must be at night – and is at least 16 years old can apply for a restricted driver’s license.

The third step of the process is to eventually graduate to a restriction-free driver’s license. At the age of 17, pending that the driver does not have a significant history of crashes or violations, nighttime and passenger restrictions are lifted from the license and the driver is permitted much more freedom.

Limitations and Exceptions

As mentioned throughout this post, the point to the graduated license program is to limit thedistractions that a young, inexperienced driver is likely to encounter on the road. These distractions include, but are not limited to, lots of teenaged friends in the car, cellular devices and the low-visibility environment presented by the late hours of the night.

Subsequently, there are laws in Washington State that restrict teenage drivers from these distractions. When a teen gets a driver’s license in the state, they are not permitted to drive between the hours of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Also, they are not permitted to drive with any passengers under the age of 20 during their first six months of driving and no more than three passengers younger than 20 in the second six months.

At the age of 17, even if the driver has not had a license for the full twelve month restriction period, the restrictions may be lifted. This, however, is dependent on whether the driver has been involved in any collisions or traffic violations since getting their license. If they have been involved in many incidents, the restrictions may remain in effect until the age of 18.

The IIHS claims that these programs are successfully reducing the number of traffic accidents and fatalities involving younger drivers throughout the country, but that a number of states could benefit from tougher enforcement of the graduated license system. Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comment box below. 

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.
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