Graduated Driver Licensing Research Review 2010 – Present

Posted by Content Coordinator on Friday, December 21st, 2012



Graduated driver licensing (GDL), a phase-in system designed to protect young beginners while they are gaining driving experience, began to be introduced in North America in the mid-1990s. GDL has replaced laws that generally allowed quick and easy access to full driving privileges; the core elements are an extended learner period during which driving must be supervised, and a restricted phase for some period after initial licensure, with limits on driving at night and carrying passengers. All jurisdictions in Canada and the United States have versions of GDL in effect, and many have substantially upgraded their original GDL legislation. In the United States, where most of the GDL research has been done, 41 states and the District of Columbia have enacted all of the core elements of GDL, with considerable variation in the comprehensiveness of these requirements. In 1995, prior to the widespread introduction of GDL, there were 2,667 drivers ages 16-17 involved in fatal crashes, a fatal crash involvement rate of 37 per 100,000 population (FARS, 2012). In 2010, there were 1,150 drivers aged 16-17 involved in fatal crashes, a rate of 13 per 100,000 population, representing a 57-percent decrease in the number of 16- and 17-year-olds involved in fatal crashes and a 64-percent decrease in the population-based fatal crash involvement rate. GDL is acknowledged to have played a lead role in that decrease (Ferguson, Teoh, & McCartt, 2007; Shults & Ali, 2010). However, there remains a substantial teenage driver problem, and many teens die each year as passengers in motor vehicles, often driven by other teens. Additional work is needed to further reduce deaths and injuries in this vulnerable population.

Good research can help in this effort, pointing the way toward evidence-based policies. The GDL movement has spurred a vast amount of research. In attempting to keep researchers and policy makers current regarding the existing state of knowledge and promising new approaches, GDL research reviews have been published covering the years 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 (Hedlund & Compton, 2004, 2005; Hedlund, Shults, & Compton, 2006) and most recently, 2007 to early 2010 (Williams & Shults, 2010). The surge in research has continued and the present review covers the period from early 2010 to mid-2012, including work in progress. In this review, central GDL issues and information needs are identified, and the recent literature is evaluated in terms of the extent to which it addresses and answers the questions posed. This review structure provides a means for summarizing present knowledge, highlighting proven approaches, and spotlighting research gaps and areas in which clarification of research findings is needed. Attention is given to the areas identified by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Subcommittee on Young Drivers (2009) as most in need of research. They are:

  • Advancing the science base for programs and policies to reduce teenage driving risk;
  •  Learning to drive safely (how competence develops);  
  • Teenage driving exposure issues (e.g., how many miles teenagers drive, as well as contextual factors such as time of day, passenger presence, trip purpose, traffic and weather); 
  • Parenting issues (how parents influence teenage driving); and
  • Passenger issues (how passengers influence teenage driving and crash risk).

Advancing the science base is applicable to GDL research in general. GDL is a solidly evidence-based strategy, but there is uncertainty about the optimal structure of its components (Foss, 2007). Building on the current state of knowledge about GDL in ways that will enhance its safety benefits is possible only through high- quality research that addresses appropriate questions.

Since the most recent review (Williams & Shults, 2010), two developments are notable. One is the increased availability of naturalistic studies of teen driving, in which cameras and other instrumentation record what is taking place in vehicles. Prior knowledge about in-vehicle activities has largely been based on self-reports or observations from outside the vehicle. The second development is the introduction of GDL features in Australian states that heretofore have been found only in North America and New Zealand. There are significant differences in Australian GDL systems, however. Most notably, licensing ages are higher and provisional license phases last longer. These differences will make it possible to study and compare a greater variety of GDL formats, although related research from Australia is only beginning to become available.

Read full report (PDF) here: Graduated Driver Licensing Research Review

About the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
“Founded in 1947, the AAA Foundation in Washington, D.C. is a not-for-profit, publicly supported charitable research and education organization dedicated to saving lives by preventing traffic crashes and reducing injuries when crashes occur. Funding for this report was provided by voluntary contributions from AAA/CAA and their affiliated motor clubs, from individual members, from AAA-affiliated insurance companies, as well as from other organizations or sources.”

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