What If a Law Could Save Your Teen Driver’s Life?

Courtney Parrott
Special to the Bulletin
Courtney Parrott

Do you know their GDL?

No, we aren’t talking about a cholesterol test here. But, knowing your teen driver’s GDL may very well save their life. That’s because GDL stands for Graduated Driver Licensing. Like all states, including Washington D.C., Texas has a GDL law. This law can help parents set limits on their teen drivers and prevent needless injuries and deaths during this high-risk time when teens are learning to drive. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the GDL can reduce teen crash risk by as much as 50%.

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for teens. Statistics show that teens are most likely to have a crash during the first six months after getting their license, which is primarily due to their inexperience. A study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) reports that drivers ages 15 to 17 years old are not only at a disadvantage due to their lack of experience but also due to the incomplete development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the part of the brain that helps weigh the consequences of risky behavior. According to the study’s author, this is the last part of the brain to develop. TTI also reports that teens are eight times more likely to be in a fatal crash when they are carrying two or more teen passengers.

One of the most important things that the Texas Graduated Driver Licensing law does is limit the number of teen passengers that can legally ride with a novice driver and provides parents with the controls to help keep their teen drivers safe. Many parents, however, are not aware of the provisions of this law, which is divided into two phases. Making sure your teen follows the GDL law can help get a teen safely through the most critical time when driver inexperience can lead to crashes.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Family and Community Health Educator Courtney Parrott in Brown County reminds parents to follow the rules set out in the Texas Graduated Driver Licensing law.

During Phase 1 of the GDL, the teen must:

• Be at least 15 years of age;

• Complete a driver education course;

• Have a learner’s license and be accompanied by a licensed driver age 21 or older who occupies the front seat when driving;

•  Have 30 hours of supervised driving, with 10 of those hours at night;

• Fulfill a 6-month waiting period after the learner’s license is issued for practicing driving with experienced drivers age 21 or older;

• Not use any wireless communication devices, hands-free or not; and

• Wear a seatbelt; it’s the law!

During Phase 2 of the GDL, the teen:

•  Must be at least 16 years of age (not issued until six months after learner’s license is issued, so age varies) and expires on the teen’s 18th birthday;

• Will receive a Provisional License, which means the teen can drive solo;

• Cannot operate a motor vehicle with more than one passenger in the vehicle under age 21 who is not a family member, unless licensed driver 21 or older is in front seat;

• Is not permitted to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. unless licensed driver 21 or older in front seat;

• May not use any wireless communication devices, hands-free or not;

• Must wear a seatbelt; it’s the law!

Research shows that parents play an important role in increasing their teen’s driving skills, as they have the greatest influence over their teen’s behavior. In fact, leading experts believe parents play a key role in preventing teen car crashes and deaths. Teens with parents who set rules, monitor their driving, and are supportive are half as likely to crash and 50% more likely to use seat belts as teens with less involved parents.

So, spell out the rules! Go to http://www.cdc.gov/ParentsAreTheKey/agreement to see sample agreements between parents and teens. Parents need to know their teen’s GDL and enforce the rules to save lives and prevent injuries!