Graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs offer young drivers and their parents step-wise paths to a full, unrestricted driver’s license that help new drivers acquire the skills they need to be a safe teen driver, while under the supervision of experienced drivers who know them. They also impact the costs of teen car insurance and can help decrease the cost to a family of adding a new driver.

A national trend

GDL programs were first introduced in a handful of states in the 1990s. Since then, every state has some form of GDL in place. In fact, a bill was introduced to both houses of Congress in 2011 that would establish national minimum GDL guidelines.

While that bill still awaits action, the GDL process is relatively similar in every state. There are three general stages of graduated driving privileges earned in a GDL. The three stages are:

  • A learning stage
  • An intermediate stage
  • The full privileges, normal licensing stage

Some states allow teens to start the learning stage as young as 14 years old. Other states make teens wait until they 16 to start the process. The age of 15 seems to be the most common benchmark for teens starting to earn driving privileges in GDLs.

The learning stage

During this phase, learners permit drivers must be accompanied by a license-holding driver of a sufficient age (usually 25.) Teen drivers in this phase are typically restricted to driving during daylight hours, and they must accumulate a minimum number of hours of supervised driving before they can take the tests necessary to move to the intermediary, provisional stage.

Typically, teens in the learning phase of a GDL are also restricted in the type and number of passengers they can have with them in addition to the guardian/supervising driver (by types, the restriction is usually to only one other family member or in some cases, a co-worker.)

As a parent or guardian it is important to note that even learners permit drivers must be covered by teen car insurance. Depending on the state and the company, you may be able to add your learning teen to your policy by simply contacting the company, but there may also be other requirements before they have sufficient coverage to begin even the learning phase of a GDL.

The intermediate stage

The intermediary or provisionary stage describes drivers who have just received their actual license. Teens can enter this phase once they have accumulated enough hours, passed required tests such as a DMV-administered road test, and reach the minimum age. This is usually 16, but can be as high as 17.

Restrictions in this phase can include driving only during daylight hours, different limits on passengers including the number of passengers and the minimum passenger age, and stronger penalties for violating any of these restrictions or for being caught driving under the influence. Many states explicitly ban any use of smart phones or mobile devices while driving (even in hands-free mode) by drivers in this stage.

There are often additional supervised driving hours required during this phase of a GDL and in most cases, the parents or guardians of teen drivers have to certify that the teen has completed these requirements.

Because at this point teens are driving alone, they are legally required to have teen auto insurance. However, there are steps that these teen drivers and parents can take to decrease that cost. These benefits extend to the final, full-privilege stage, which is usually available after a certain minimum age, typically 17 or 18.

Insurance considerations

One of the main impacts of graduated drivers licensing programs is that in roughly 48 states, teens can technically get behind the wheel before or well before they are considered fully licensed drivers by the law. In the case of states like California or New York, this pushes the minimum age to 17 or 18, depending on driver’s education classes and other details, instead of the 16-year-old limit many think is still standard.

GDL programs put young drivers through a slower process that also gives parents and teens the chance to take advantage of additional driver training options, many of which offer opportunities to reduce the cost of teen auto insurance.

For example, many GDL driver education requirements can be fulfilled through school programs and many insurers will give car insurance premium discounts to teen drivers who maintain good grades and who successfully complete a driver education and safety program through the school they attend.

There are some insurance companies that offer discounts when drivers elect to limit the number of miles they drive. If you have a teen driving during a GDL phase limiting the time of day s/he can drive, it may lower the number of miles driven enough to qualify for a discount.

While the GDL process is now a requirement in all states for teen drivers, the entire process may ultimately help parents and teen drivers set a foundation for safe driving that will help them avoid the tragedy of a car accident and help begin curbing the cost of getting the necessary (and expensive) car insurance coverage teen drivers need.

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License: Royalty Free or iStock

source: Image courtesy of state farm insurance

Jeffrey Davidson is the father of a former teen driver and he brings more more than 25 years of experience to his role as a writer with Reply!. He has worked in market research, public relations, consulting, writing, marking and sales in the car insurance industry. See his article on teen drivers and insurance.