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Status Report, Vol. 36, No. 6 | June 30, 2001 Subscribe

California's strong graduated licensing law attracts broad support

Parents of teenagers subject to California's tough graduated licensing requirements support the program. So do many of the teenagers. Despite restrictions on nighttime driving and limitations on the number of passengers allowed in a car with a beginning driver, most teenagers subject to the new rules say they're still able to pursue their activities.

Previous studies have indicated that parents in a number of states are strong supporters of graduated licensing (see "Parents' enthusiasm for graduated plan grows with experience," Dec. 4, 1999).

"How families adapt to the rules is important because the safety benefits of graduated licensing will be limited if compliance isn't widespread," Institute chief scientist Allan Williams points out.

Graduated systems can cause some inconvenience among both teenagers and their parents by delaying the process of getting full driving privileges and, in effect, prohibiting some types of travel previously available to young people. The potential for inconvenience is greatest in jurisdictions like California, where the restrictions are relatively strong. Not every state restricts teen passengers in a car when a beginner is behind the wheel, for example.

California's law is one of the toughest

Adopted in 1998, the law in California was the first to include a meaningful passenger restriction. No passengers younger than 20 are allowed in the car during the first 6 months of licensure unless an adult 25 or older is present. There's also a ban on nighttime driving, although it doesn't begin until midnight. Restrictions in other states start as early as 9 p.m.

California extended the learner's permit stage from 1 to 6 months and now requires parents to certify, prior to full licensure, that their children have driven at least 50 hours under supervision, including 10 hours at night.

Majorities favor the law

To see how Californians are adapting, Institute researchers surveyed two sets of license holders three times during their first year of licensure. One group of teens was subject to the graduated licensing law. The other wasn't. Researchers also interviewed the parents twice.

"We found the new system is well tolerated by both teens and their parents. It has substantially changed driving behaviors. Collectively, the changes should lead to crash and injury reductions," Williams says.

Parents strongly endorse the system. Among those with children subject to the new rules, 79 percent said they strongly favor the state's graduated licensing system. Only 4 percent are neutral or said they oppose it.

Teenagers are less positive. The majority said they favor the night driving restriction, while only about one-third like the passenger restriction. Most teenagers subject to the new rules said they're able to continue their activities despite the changes. About three-quarters said they aren't affected much by either the nighttime driving rule or the restriction on passengers in the car.

Law results in changes

Compliance with the new rules in California isn't universal or even close, especially regarding the passenger restriction. Still, the rules do mean young people hold their permits longer and accumulate more practice driving before they earn full licensure. The rules also substantially decrease the amount of reported driving after midnight and transport of teen passengers by newly licensed drivers.

How much did the restrictions keep you from doing the things you want?

Night driving
37% none
48% not much
17% none
56% not much

Overall, how do you feel about California's new graduated licensing system?

79% strongly favor
17% favor

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