Participation in graduated licensing programs (GDL) is one of many reasons why fatal teen auto accidents have declined in South Carolina and across the country in recent years, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the April 3, 2015 report, the CDC notes that the number of drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 who were killed in accidents dropped by 55 percent between 2004 and 2013. In 2004, there were 5,724 teens that died in crashes. In 2013, that number fell to 2,568.
“Many factors are probably at play, but there is wide agreement the graduated licensing programs are an important contributor to the decline in fatal crashes,” CDC researcher Ruth Shults told Reuters.
However, the CDC report notes that many teens are now waiting until after they reach age 18 to get their driver’s license due to economic reasons. Because they do not have to go through a GDL program after age 18, those drivers – and the other vehicle drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians they share the road with — can’t reap the program’s safety benefits.
A Closer Look at South Carolina’s GDL Program
In light of the CDC report, it may be helpful to know how South Carolina’s GDL program works. As you will see below, the program promotes driver education and adult supervision, and it places restrictions on night driving and on the number and age of passengers teen drivers can transport.
Note: In our state, any driver under age 18 must first hold a beginner’s permit for at least 180 days before getting a driver’s license of any kind – restricted or one with full driving privileges (a “regular license”).
The state provides two types of restricted licenses:
This license can be obtained by a driver who is age 15 and has met the 180-day beginner’s permit requirement. Additionally, the teen must:
- Have a parent or guardian’s signed authorization
- Have completed a driver’s education class
- Have completed at least 40 practice driving hours (10 at night) under the supervision of a licensed parent or guardian
- Be enrolled in school (with regular attendance)
- Pass vision and road tests.
The license comes with the following restrictions:
- Between 6 p.m. and midnight, the driver must be accompanied by a licensed adult (a driver who is age 21 or older).
- Between midnight and 6 a.m., the teen must be accompanied by a licensed parent or guardian.
- The teen cannot have more than two passengers under age 21 unless he or she is accompanied by an adult (or is driving family members or students to or from school).
If the driver has held the conditional license for at least one year without any traffic offenses or at-fault accidents, the driver can get a regular license when he or she turns age 16.
A teen can obtain this license at age 16 if he or she has met the 180-day beginner’s permit requirement and passed the state’s vision and road tests, or if the teen holds a conditional license.
The teen must also meet the same parent/guardian authorization, driver’s education, supervised driving and school attendance requirements that are required for a conditional license.
The teen is subject to the same time and passenger restrictions as a conditional license holder. However, unlike a conditional license holder, a teen with this license can seek waiver of the time limits for work, school, church or sports reasons.
Once the teen turns age 17 and has held the license for one year without traffic offenses or at-fault crashes, he or she can obtain a regular license.
Additionally, a teen who is age 17 can apply for a regular license if, in addition to meeting the 180-day beginner’s permit requirement, he or she passes the vision and road tests (and has a parent or guardian’s signed authorization).
Once a person turns age 18, he or she can apply for a regular license without the need for parent authorization.
Should South Carolina’s GDL Program Be Expanded?
The new CDC report shows that programs such as the one in South Carolina have had a positive impact.
However, as the CDC report notes, teens from low-income families may not be able to afford driver’s education courses or high auto insurance premiums. As a result, they may simply wait until they turn age 18 to seek a license.
To do everything we can to ensure our state’s newest drivers have been properly taught and supervised, it may be worth studying the benefits of a GDL program that applies to drivers up to at least age 20. Teens who can’t afford driving classes or insurance at an earlier age may be in a better position to do so in later years.
At the Jebaily Law Firm, we promote teen driving safety in addition to helping those who are the victims of careless drivers. We strongly support the South Carolina GDL program and any other steps we can take to make our roads safer.