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Responses of teenagers and their parents to California’s graduated licensing system

Williams, Allan F.; Nelson, Laurie A.; Leaf, William A.
Accident Analysis and Prevention
September 2002

In 1998, California adopted a strong graduated licensing system that lengthened the learner's permit stage from 1 month to a mandatory 6 months and introduced passenger and nighttime restrictions for initial license holders. The passenger restriction (no passengers younger than 20 for the first 6 months) is stronger than such restrictions in any other state; the nighttime ban is relatively weak, not beginning until midnight. Surveys were undertaken to learn what teenagers and their parents thought about the new requirements and how they responded to them. Two groups of beginning California license holders were surveyed three times during the first year of licensure; their parents were interviewed twice. One group (n = 543) was subject to the graduated licensing requirements, the other (n = 814) was not. Parents strongly endorsed the new system. The vast majority approved of the new permit requirements and the nighttime and passenger restrictions. Among parents whose children were subject to the new requirements, 79% were strongly in favor of the new system and only 4% were neutral or opposed. Teenagers were less favorable toward the new requirements. Most approved of the new learner's permit rules, and the majority of teenagers favored the night restriction, but only about one-third endorsed the passenger restriction. Compliance with the new rules was not close to universal, but the new licensing system resulted in young people holding their learner's permits longer, accumulating more practice driving prior to licensure and decreased the amount of reported driving after midnight and transportation of teenagers when initially licensed. Most teenagers subject to the new rules said they were able to do the activities they wanted despite the changes; almost three-quarters said they were not affected much by either the nighttime or passenger restriction. Overall the results indicate that the new licensing system is accepted favorably by teenagers and their parents and has substantially increased the types of behaviors that collectively should lead to crash and injury reductions.