LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Report: New Jersey’s Graduated Driver License Law is Saving Lives

By Lauren Wanko
Correspondent

Wet weather often creates a dangerous commute for the most experienced drivers and it could be especially difficult for teens getting behind the wheel for the first time. This second generation driving instructor is used to hitting the road with students in the rain.

“A day like today makes it bit more challenging because kids now have to, you know, respond to situations,” said Carr’s Driver School President John Carr.

A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association indicates nationwide teen drivers are 1.6 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than adults and teen involved crash deaths spiked 10 percent in 2015, the first uptick since 2006, but in the Garden State that number has decreased.

“New Jersey has been able to cut teen fatalities by more than half because of our Graduated Driver License law,” said the report’s author Pam Fischer.

Fischer says prior to the 2015 increase in teen crashes and deaths over the past decade there’s still been a dramatic drop in the number of accidents and fatalities because of the Graduated Driver License or GDL program in every state. She calls it the most effective tool in the toolbox.

“A graduated driver license program is a three-step process,” Fischer said. “The first step is that learner’s permit phase — teen gets a permit goes out and practices with supervision for at least six months. The second phase is that license phase where they actually get a driver’s license but it has restrictions. Here in New Jersey we call it a probationary license.”

In New Jersey, nighttime driving is restricted during this phase among other things. By the third and final step the driver can qualify for a full license, says Fischer, but in most states teens age out of the GDL program by 18.

“Where we are remarkably different. We are the only state that says if you are under 21 and you’re going to go for a license for the very first time, you have to go through the full Graduated Drivers License program. Here’s why this is so important — and I think this is the crux of it — a teen is inexperienced when they’re a new driver, but they’re also dealing with brain development issues so your brain doesn’t fully develop until by your early to mid 20s and that brain is critical for addressing and accessing risk when you drive,” Fischer said.

Carr trains about 100 novice, teen drivers every month.

“No doubt the GDL program I think is an awesome thing, I think it’s a like a coach or a teacher you start with the basics the fundamentals and then you add a layered effect you incrementally give these kids more of a responsibility,” said Carr.

Fischer urges other states to extend the age of their Graduated Driver License program to include all new drivers under 21.