A graduated driver licensing system slowly introduces novices to driving, first allowing them to drive only under the safest conditions. Having several months experience, drivers are then allowed to drive unsupervised, but still not during the most dangerous conditions – during the nighttime hours and with multiple passengers. After a period during which new drivers have demonstrated that they are reasonably safe and responsible drivers – by receiving no traffic citations – under the safest driving conditions, an unrestricted license is issued.
On December 1, 2002, the North Carolina Legislature added a passenger restriction to its GDL system, prohibiting young drivers with a Level 2 (intermediate) driver's license from transporting more than one passenger under age 21 unless accompanied by a parent or other supervising driver.
The number of passengers traveling in a vehicle with a teen driver increases the risk that the driver will be involved in a fatal crash (see figure). Prior to the passenger restriction in North Carolina, for drivers with an intermediate license carrying one passenger, the risk of a serious or fatal crash was somewhat higher – about 33 percent – than traveling with no passengers. Two or more passengers more than doubled the risk – a 134 percent jump – compared with having no passengers.
Since the passenger restriction went into effect, crashes involving multiple teen passengers in North Carolina have decreased by 42 percent for 16-year-old drivers and 23 percent for 17-year-old drivers.
North Carolina crash data indicate that the majority of 16 and 17 year-old drivers' nighttime crashes (nearly 80 percent) occur between 9 p.m. and midnight. Because of this, along with the demonstrated effectiveness of night driving restrictions, a limit on driving between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. is important to help protect inexperienced drivers from a risky driving condition. A later limit, such as 11 p.m. or midnight, would not include the bulk of the time period when most nighttime crashes occur.
Although this driving restriction may constitute a minor inconvenience to beginning drivers and perhaps their families, it is important to recognize that it lasts only for a six-month period and that it does not apply for a teenager driving to or from work. Most importantly, it has been demonstrated to reduce deaths and injuries among novice drivers and their passengers. Nighttime crashes have declined by 56 percent among 16 year-old drivers and by 24 percent among 17 year-old drivers. Because of this effect, a nighttime driving restriction is considered to be one of the most beneficial elements of GDL.
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