If your teenager is like many today (including one of mine), they may not be in a rush to drive. They pass their sixteen birthday, happily taking the bus or getting rides. Then they're still without a license at 17. At 18 or older, they realize they need to drive to work and start the learning-to-drive process. The danger is that in many states, by age 18, they have aged out of the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program requirements that have been shown to be beneficial for new drivers.

Although GDL may not apply, your role is still vitally important to their safety: You are not off the hook. All novice drivers, regardless of their age, are at their highest lifetime risk of crashing soon after licensure. The "vaccine" for novice driver crashes is clear: excellent skills (including scanning and speed management), experience, and avoiding distractions – all things that you can model and teach your new driver.

If your teen has decided to delay getting a driver's license, it can be a very sensible and practical decision. Research led by Allison Curry, PhD, a Children's Hospital of Philadelphia epidemiologist, demonstrated that one-third of all drivers are not licensed by age 18. By age 21, about 20 percent of all young adults are still not licensed. Those that put off licensure do so for various reasons related to opportunity (no access to car), cost (gas too expensive), and motivation (didn't get around to it).

However, there are safety concerns due to the fact that in most states, except New Jersey, GDL provisions end by age 18. GDL protects newly licensed teen drivers by keeping them out of high-risk driving situations until they have gained driving experience in lower-risk conditions. This includes limits on nighttime driving and the number of peer passengers teens may drive, as well as bans on cell phone use while driving, and requiring a minimum number of hours of supervised practice during the permit phase.

Here's what you and your family can do to keep your newly licensed driver safe on the road, regardless of his or her age. We call it A Personal Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Plan. If your teen is waiting to learn to drive until after his or her eighteenth birthday, help your child own the learning-to- drive process. A Personal GDL Plan will help reduce crash risk. Provide this guidance to your older novice driver:

  • Prepare for the learner permit, whether you are required by law or not. Read up on your state's traffic laws and know the stages of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL).
  • Base your "Personal GDL" on your behind-the-wheel time and progress in gaining safe driving skills.
  • Consider getting behind-the-wheel training with a professional.
  • Designate an experienced licensed adult driver or two to supervise your early driving. Continue 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 much more than the 60 hours of adult-supervised practice currently recommended by GDL programs in several states. Access CHOP's TeenDrivingPlan Parent Guide to spend those supervised practice hours effectively.
  • 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.

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