Recent studies from CIRP@CHOP and AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggest that organizations that support families with safe teen driving programs now need to think about the families of teens who are waiting to get licensed beyond their 18th birthday. A substantial proportion of teens are delaying that rite of passage until they can really afford and need to drive. According to the research, teens that delay licensure are more likely to be minorities and from households and zip codes with lower incomes.
As a pediatrician, I am conflicted about this fact. Disparities in licensure can result in lost opportunities but also may afford safety and health advantages.
Teens in my practice who delay driving are often both responsible and practical. Philadelphia is a city with many transportation options – we have a growing bike and walking culture (active transportation) and excellent public transportation. In addition, these responsible teens know that they need to be ready to drive in mind, body, and according to the research, in wallet.
However, many youth live in areas of the country without the transportation options that we have in Philadelphia. For some of these youth, a delay in licensure does not necessarily mean a delay in driving: They might choose to drive unlicensed, a behavior associated with a high risk of crashes. Or they may start driving later but without the supports afforded younger licensed drivers.
It is a huge responsibility to be behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. The stakes are high -- literally life and death, as well as future success in academics and employment which requires mobility and a secure personal financial picture.
So how do we frame the learning-to-drive process for older teen drivers? First, we should encourage alternative forms of transportation wherever possible; this is a healthy and environmentally friendly option. For those teens who need to drive, we should support them in ensuring that they do so safely, even when they delay driving and licensure beyond age 18. In all states besides New Jersey, after age 18, they are no longer required to abide by a state-mandated full GDL program. In the vacuum of no official GDL for older teens, I suggest you encourage them to create a “Personal GDL” plan. All novice drivers have a higher crash risk no matter their age when first beginning to drive. Here’s how they can own the process in typical GDL steps:
Your Personal GDL
- Prepare for the learner permit, whether you need one or not. Read up on your state’s traffic laws and know the stages of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL). (Click here to learn more.)
- Base your “Personal GDL” on your behind-the-wheel time and progress in gaining safe driving skills. (Click here to plan quality practice.)
- Consider getting behind-the-wheel training with a professional. (Click here for tips on how to choose a driving school.)
- Designate an experienced licensed adult driver or two to supervise your early driving until both of you feel comfortable with your driving performance in many different driving environments – types of roads, traffic and weather conditions, and times of day. This involves more than 50 hours of adult-supervised practice. (Click here to learn more.)
- Follow supervised practice with independent driving under less risky conditions before you drive in higher risk conditions. And continue to enlist a licensed adult to ride along as a passenger to support safe driving behaviors and to provide guidance in difficult driving situations. (Click here to learn more.)
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