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Should The Minimum Legal Driving Age Be Raised?

The debate is not new. The question of whether the minimum legal driving age should be raised has been asked over the years in many states and many legislative sessions. Georgia introduced legislation in the 2008 session to raise the minimum age to obtain a driver's license to 17; Delaware and Florida introduced similar legislation. Massachusetts introduced two bills, one proposing 17 as a minimum age and the other proposing 18 as a minimum age for obtaining a driver's license. Illinois also proposed 18 as a minimum legal age. Not one of the proposed bills succeeded. Only New Jersey has a minimum legal driving age above 16 (a person must be 17 years or older to obtain a driver's license).

The failure of states to raise the minimum driving age flies in the face of the relevant studies and statistics. In 2009, more than 5,600 people were killed in crashes involving drivers ages 15-20. In fact, 15-20 year olds have the highest fatality rate of all age groups. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 63% of teen passenger deaths in 2008 occurred in vehicles driven by another teen. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data shows that young drivers account for only 6% of total drivers, but approximately 12% of fatal crashes. Bottom line: motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of teens in the U.S. The younger the driver, the higher the risk.

With the above data and the support of many experts for raising the minimum driving age, why is N.J. the only state to do so? The answer may lie in a recent online poll: in response to the question "Should the minimum legal driving age be raised to 18 years old?" 39% said yes; and 61% said no. Evidently, the public, and therefore their elected representatives, are not in favor of delaying licensure.

What has been accomplished in recent years, however, is the adoption of Graduated Driving License programs, or GDL programs. The idea behind GDL programs is to give new drivers education and experience before allowing them to drive on the road alone. In Georgia, the path to a driver's license begins with obtaining a permit at age 15 or older. In eight states, the GDL programs require that a person be 16 years or older to apply for a permit (CT, DE, KY, MA, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and D.C.). A permitted driver can only drive with a licensed driver age 21 years or older. During that time, most GDLs require a permit holder to take driver's education and to complete a certain amount of hours of driving time before applying for their license. Once these steps are taken and the permit holder is 16 years or older, the permit holder can apply for their license. This is the next step in the GDL program. In some states such as Georgia, the first license obtained is provisional; it carries various restrictions on the hours allowed to drive, and the people allowed to drive with the newly licensed driver). At age 17 in Georgia, an unrestricted or non-provisional license can be obtained. Thus, GDLs have in actuality raised the minimum legal driving age in states with programs such as Georgia's, where unrestricted driving is reserved until age 17 or older. Studies show that GDL programs have lowered crash rates in states where they have been adopted.

If you have questions about Georgia's GDL program or if you have been in a car accident involving a young driver, contact the Thomas Law Firm.

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Thomas Law Firm
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