Back in the ‘70s, when I was…very young, getting a driver’s license was fairly uncomplicated. Times were different. Laws were different. The entire experience was different than the way my boys would experience it just some 25 years later.
While there is some disagreement among my friends and family as to exactly when we were able to get our permits and how soon after we could take our tests, we all seem to agree the time in-between was very short – much shorter than it is today. Back then, we were just on the verge of becoming aware of ways to reduce risks inherent to driving, including the risk of the teenage driver. Like most of you, I clearly remember the day I got my driver’s license. That same night, I took my mother’s 1972 Plymouth Duster, picked up a few friends and went out for my first taste of real independence. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the safest or the smartest decision for a new driver…but, I was 16 years old, and risk-assessment wasn’t my top priority. I had my license, a car key…and a new found freedom. I was also very lucky.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 16-year-old teenage driver has the highest crash risk per mile traveled compared to drivers in higher age groups. Factors contributing to this statistic include driver error, speeding, passenger distraction, night driving, and the failure to wear a seat belt. This risk remains disturbingly high through the age of 19, with alcohol being added to the list of contributing factors for the 17- to 19-year-olds.
The IIHS was established in 1959 to support highway safety efforts. In 1969, having reinvented itself as an independent research organization focused on accident prevention, the IIHS undertook a scientific approach to identify a full range of options for reducing crash losses In my personal opinion, the Graduated Driver Licensing System was one of the best outcomes of those efforts. First adopted by the state of Florida in 1996, some version of the Graduated Driver Licensing System has now been adopted by almost all 50 states. This system, designed to ease young drivers into complete driving privileges, gives new drivers the opportunity to gain experience and maturity before adopting the full responsibilities of driving. National studies indicate states reporting the fewest fatal accidents involving 16-year-old drivers are the states employing these graduated systems.
Pennsylvania has a G (good) rating for its system of graduated licensing. Similar to other versions, the steps in this graduate system include a permit with a mandatory supervised learner’s period, an intermediate license with limited driver privileges, and a license with full privileges. Detailed requirements and regulations can be found on the Pennsylvania DMV website. Here you can also access an excellent tutorial guide if you are about to embark on the experience of teaching a young driver yourself. Those of us who have or had a teenager can tell you there is an added bonus to the obvious safety benefits of the graduated system – no arguments over curfew! Until my boys turned 18, curfew was 11:00 p.m. No questions asked…I had the law on my side!