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Status Report, Vol. 40, No. 6 | July 16, 2005 Subscribe

Many teens face tougher policies on the road to a driver's license

Almost all U.S. states have laws that phase in driving privileges for young beginners in three stages — a learner's permit, an intermediate license with driving restrictions, and then full licensure. Some states recently beefed up the restrictions in the first two stages, and four states adopted three-stage licensing for the first time.

The specifics of the new restrictions differ, but they're all intended to reduce crashes involving beginners. For example:

Delaware and Tennessee are prohibiting learners and intermediate licensees from using cell phones while driving. The ban took effect in Delaware in April. The Tennessee law goes into effect this month.

A phone use ban in Maryland becomes effective in October. Plus learners will have to complete 60 hours (up from 40 hours) of practice driving before applying for an intermediate license. Then they won't be allowed to drive with passengers younger than 18 for the first 5 months of the intermediate stage.

A phone use ban takes effect next month in Colorado. It will apply to learners but not to people with intermediate licenses. Another new restriction already is in effect in Colorado — passengers younger than 21 are limited in vehicles driven by intermediate licensees during the first year.

Effective in October, Connecticut will require learners to get 20 hours of practice driving. For the first 6 months of intermediate licensure, beginners won't be allowed to drive with passengers unless an adult supervises. All intermediate licensees younger than 18 will have to be supervised while driving from midnight to 5 a.m.

Oklahoma is one of four states to adopt new licensing systems that include all three stages. Learners will have to get 40 hours of practice driving to advance to the intermediate stage. Then they won't be allowed to drive at night (between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.) or with more than 1 passenger at any time of day unless they're supervised. These restrictions will become effective in November.

Under Hawaii's new licensing system, which begins next year, the learner's stage will be 6 months. When teens advance to the intermediate stage, they won't be allowed to drive unsupervised from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., and they'll be limited to 1 passenger younger than 18 (except for people in their households). They'll be eligible for full licensure when they're 17 and have completed at least 6 months in the intermediate stage.

A new law in Wyoming will require 50 hours of supervised driving during the learner's stage. Then teens with intermediate licenses won't be allowed to drive unsupervised from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., and they'll be limited to 1 passenger younger than 18 (besides members of their families). This law becomes effective in September.

Montana also adopted a new licensing system, which goes into effect next July. For the first time, driving restrictions on young beginners will be lifted in stages. Fifteen year-olds who have spent at least 6 months in the learner's stage and accumulated 50 hours of practice driving may apply for their intermediate licenses. Then for the first 6 months only 1 passenger younger than 18 will be allowed (the passenger limit rises to 3 in the second 6 months). For a year intermediate licensees will have to be supervised when they're behind the wheel between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

"Montana still lets beginners start driving too young, but otherwise the law changes in these states are for the better, especially the passenger restrictions," says Susan Ferguson, Institute senior vice president for research. "When graduated licensing laws for young drivers began to be enacted a decade or so ago, few of them included passenger restrictions. But now that research has clearly established the added risks when multiple teens ride together, states are changing their laws to reduce these risks."

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