The Pro-Youth Pages
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Sweeping Death Under the Rug

The Push for Graduated Driver Licenses

In America, it used to be that when you were learning to drive, you were issued a learner's permit allowing you to drive with supervision; then after you proved to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that you could drive safely, you were issued a driver license giving you the full right to drive on America's highways.

That's still true for adults learning to drive. But for America's teenagers, some politicians are changing the rules. Some states have now instituted "graduated driver license programs" (GDL's), and a new proposal in Congress would force all states to adopt this policy.

In these states, a teenager is not even allowed to prove herself to the DMV until she has spent many, many hours driving with her parents, regardless of whether those parents are good drivers or bad. If her parent is a bad driver who pushes the wrong habits on her, that's just her tough luck. Then, if she can still pass the DMV test, she is given, not a full license, but a second-class license that allows her drive only under certain circumstances.

These GDL laws not only insult youth, they endanger lives.


Backers of GDL laws claim they are motivated, not by ageism, but by love. They say they want teenagers to be safe, and these restrictions will keep teenagers driving safely.

But studies have shown just the opposite is true. The Californian Journal of Health Promotion published a 2006 study that found:

18- and 19-year-olds subjected to GDL programs experienced net increases of 11% in traffic fatalities and 10% in involvements of drivers in fatal accidents, more than offsetting the declines among younger teenagers. (1)

In other words, the study found that:

  1. There were declines in fatalities among those younger than 18 — but only because fewer were now driving at all. These GDL licenses bore so many restrictions they were nearly worthless.
  2. Older teenagers who had gone through the GDL program were significantly more likely to cause accidents than teenagers who had been driving with full licenses all along. That's not surprising since teenagers under GDL were less able to stay in practice after proving themselves to the DMV.
  3. Overall, the number of deaths caused by GDL was larger than the number of deaths prevented by it.

Rather than saving lives, these GDL policies are killing people. Why do politicians want to spread this problem nationwide?

The More Likely Motive

Clearly, their motivation is not safety. If politicians really believed, despite all scientific evidence, that GDL's made new drivers safer, they would require GDL licenses for all new drivers regardless of age. Instead they target the one group that cannot fight back at the ballot box.

We must conclude GDL-supporters want, not safer driving, but less driving by teenagers. These politicians have the same motive as leaders in Saudi Arabia who ban women from driving. They want to make American teenagers even more dependent, even more powerless, even more humiliated.

These politicians will pander to ageist voters even if it means they have to sweep under the rug a few more highway deaths.


The STAND UP Act now making its way through Congress (in the Senate, it's bill S. 3269; in the House of Representatives, it's H.R. 1895) would impose these deadly GDL's on every state in the union.

Adding insult to injury, the bill would also ban drivers younger than 18 — and only drivers younger than 18 — from using cell phones or texting while driving. This is especially insulting because studies have now proven not only that these activities are dangerous for all drivers, but that drivers younger than 18 are the ones least likely to be guilty.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 3/4 of all adults who own cell phones have talked on the phone while driving, but only 1/2 of such teenagers have. The study also found that 47% of adults who text have done so while driving, but only 34% of such teenagers have (2). Far from the stereotype of teenaged risk-takers, in the real world, it is adults who are most likely to engage in this risky behavior.

Since teenagers are the ones least likely to do these reckless acts, targeting teenagers with this ban makes no sense from a safety standpoint. It is an ageist insult.

NYRA's Executive Director, Alex Koroknay-Palicz, offers another interesting point on this issue:

[R]esearch shows that a teen on a cell phone has the same reaction times as a senior citizen not on a cell phone. If we believe teens on cell phones are so dangerous that federal legislation is needed, shouldn't we, by the same token, ban all drivers over 65? The reality is that texting or talking on a cell phone is dangerous for all drivers. Some research even concludes it is comparable to drunk driving. Can you imagine having a law that says drunk driving is just fine as long as you are over 18? (3)

Ban drivers older than 65? Just because they're as dangerous as teenagers on cell phones? Our politicians will never allow that.

It is wrong to impose hardships on someone simply because of when she was born. But that is not why the elderly are protected. In California, after an elderly driver killed 10 people and injured more than 40, a few politicians suggested a new policy: elderly drivers, in order to renew their licenses, would be required to pass a behind-the-wheel DMV test — the same test teenagers in California have to pass to get their nearly worthless GDL licenses. That proposal didn't pass. It didn't even come close.

The elderly are allowed the vote, and they will not allow their freedom, their mobility, or their dignity to be threatened. The mobility of even the most dangerous adult is sacred, politicians therefore tell us, but the mobility of even the safest teenager is expendable. Young people (denied the right to vote, file lawsuits, or control money) are down, so politicians feel safe kicking them.

Take Action

Politicians need to hear from us. They need to know we won't sit by and watch them kick youth again.

Write, call, or email the Senators for your state and the Representative for your Congressional District. Tell them to vote down the STAND UP Act (S. 3269 / H.R. 1895).

Update: September, 2011

The study cited above, showing that GDL laws increase highway fatalities for those older than 18, was a study that only looked at California. Do other states with GDL's suffer the same outcomes?

A recent, nationwide study by the Department of Motor Vehicles found similar results. Across the United States, GDL's cause a drop in highway fatalities among those aged 16-17 (because so few in that age group were now driving at all!) and cause a nearly identical rise in fatalities for those aged 18-19.

What about those older than 19? This study did not look at them, but common sense suggests that if GDL's worsened the driving of 19-year-olds, GDL's probably did not improve the driving of 20-year-olds.

Details at,0,7056006.story.

See also:


Males, Mike. "California's Graduated Driver License Law: Effects on Older Teenagers." Californian Journal of Health Promotion 2006, Volume 4, Issue 3. p 207-221. Available online at
Madden, Mary, et al. "Adults and Cell Phone Distractions." June 18, 2010.
Koroknay-Palicz, Alex. "The STAND UP ACT is a Big Mistake." Huffington Post. June 4, 2010.