Most teens can't wait to turn 16, get a driver's license, and start driving. However, in many states it's not so simple. While you can get your driver's license at 16 in most states, you are often not given the freedom to drive whenever and wherever you want. In addition to required hours of driver education courses prior to issuing a license, many states have instituted a graduated licensing program where teens will not receive a full license until the age of 18. Knowing the laws can help make getting your license a positive experience and keep you out of trouble when you're out on the road.
Graduated Driver's License
Graduated Driver's License (GDL) programs have been implemented by all 50 states to help teens work up to a full, unrestricted driver's license. A GDL program has three stages:
- Learner Stage: Teens are supervised while driving, often take driver's education courses, and must take a driving test to progress to the next stage.
- Intermediate Stage: Restrictions are placed on teen drivers to help limit crashes and encourage safe driving.
- Full Privilege Stage: Teens receive a full, unrestricted driver's license.
The age at which each stage begins, and the requirements and restrictions for each stage, vary by state. Your state's Department of Driver Services or Department of Motor Vehicles is the place to check for specific rules and regulations, although the Governors Highway Safety Association also provides information on each state's requirements. Some specific state requirements include:
- Teens in Colorado can get a permit at age 15 if they take driver's ed, 15 1/2 if they take a driver awareness course and 16 without taking any classes.
- In Idaho and Montana, you can get your learner's permit at 14 1/2 and your intermediate license at age 15.
- New Jersey does not allow teen drivers to get an intermediate license until they turn 17.
To help keep teens safe on the road, some states have implemented curfews that restrict the time of day teens can drive. If caught driving after the curfew, you can be ticketed or have your license suspended. Teens who work late or are driving to and from school events can often get around the curfew if they can provide evidence that they were involved in an approved activity. A few of the curfews for teen drivers imposed by major states include:
- In Virginia, drivers under age 18 may not drive from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m.
- Drivers in Illinois who are between the ages of 15 and 17 and are in the permit or initial licensing stage are not allowed to drive from 10 p.m. - 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. - 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
- In California, teens who have held a license for under a year may not drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
- New York limits when teens can drive by region. In some regions, such as the heart of New York City, teens are not allowed to drive on specific roads or freeways. Most regions also do not allow teens to drive between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
- South Carolina has even stricter limits, only allowing teens to drive alone from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. during the winter and from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. in the summer, unless they are going to or from work or school.
According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, having one passenger in the car with a teen increases the risk of an accident by 44 percent and that risk continues to increase as you add more passengers to the car. If you're ready to load your car with friends the day you get your license, think again. To help prevent accidents, many states limit the amount of passengers you're allowed to have in your car.
- In Illinois, this means only have one passenger under age 20 in your car for the first 12 months you have your license or until you turn 18, whichever comes last.
- Texas limits teens to one passenger under 21 for the first 12-months after receiving a license.
- In Ohio, a driver who is 16 can only have one passenger in the car, no matter how old the passenger is.
- Florida does not limit the number of teenage passengers, but strongly encourages parents to set their own limits.
In most cases, exceptions to passenger rules are made for family members, which allow teen drivers to transport parents, grandparents and siblings.
Texting and Driving
Teens like to text and teens like to drive. While texting and driving laws are not written specifically to teenagers, they affect teenagers. According to Distraction.gov, 39 states have banned texting while driving for all drivers. The Governor's Highway Safety Association notes that five other states ban texting for teen drivers. In addition, 10 states and the District of Columbia have banned handheld cell phone use in cars entirely. Other states, such as Alabama, Georgia, Illinois and New Jersey do not allow teen drivers to use their cell phones in any way while driving.
Losing Your License
After working so hard and waiting so long to get your license, you can still lose it in an instant. States often provide harsher punishments for teen drivers who break the law than for adult drivers to help teach then a lesson. Simply getting caught for going five miles over the speed limit will be enough to get your license suspended in some states. Many states also tie driving privileges to other behaviors, such as drinking, smoking or failing to attend school. For example, if you're caught with tobacco in Florida, you can lose your license for six months to a year. You will also be restricted to driving for business purposes only, such as to and from school or work, if you get six points on your license before you turn 18. Every speeding ticket for going less than 15 miles over the posted speeding ticket is 3 points and getting caught driving after hours is 3 points. Other ways you can lose your license in specific states include:
- If you're caught speeding in Ohio, you could lose your license until you turn 18, although most teens get their licenses suspended for 30 days and must attend a driver safety course.
- In Illinois, if you're caught speeding, breaking curfew or get into an accident before you turn 18, you may have to continue driving with restrictions after you turn 18 instead of getting a non-restricted license.
- Accruing six or more points before you turn 17 in South Carolina will get your license suspended for six months.
- One serious traffic violation in New York means your license will be revoked for 60 days. This includes speeding, even if it is only a few miles over the posted speed limit.
The rules surrounding teen driving can be both frustrating and confusing, but you must remember they are designed to keep you safe. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Graduated Driver Licensing laws have lead to a significant decrease in traffic accidents involving teens and have been instrumental in creating safer drivers. Taking the time to obey the laws for teen drivers in your state will keep you safer. They may be annoying, but they're worth it.