OPINION: Graduated License System For Teen Drivers Is Catching On

By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

You may have seen the recent commercial flooding the airwaves starring Dennis Haysbert – better known as President David Palmer on the extremely popular television show “24”—or currently Jonas Blane on “The Unit.”

In the commercial, Haysbert encourages parents to “help start the conversation” with their teen drivers. One of the major programs he supports is the Graduated Licensing System for teen drivers.

I am pleased to say that Maryland has been on the forefront when it comes to the Graduated Licensing System. Maryland first enacted a graduated licensing system in 1978. This started a national trend by requiring young drivers to complete a provisional licensing period. The program was a start, but accident rates among new drivers remained too high even after this law was implemented.

In April 1997, the Motor Vehicle Administration appointed a Graduated Licensing System Initiative Work Group with the goal of establishing a licensing system that would better protect new drivers. What came out of that work group was Chapter 483 of 1998 which incorpororated a modified version of the proposal that the work group had recommended.

Chapter 483 established a new graduated driver licensing system intended to enhance driver safety. It also established a pilot program to more accurately evaluate the driving skills of new drivers seeking a driver’s license.

This legislation modified the length of time that an individual must possess a learner’s permit before being eligible for a provisional license. A new driver was required to hold a learner’s permit for a minimum of four months rather than 14 days to be eligible to obtain a license. All new drivers were also required to take a driver education course, not just new drivers under the age of 18.

Additionally, when taking a skills exam for a driver’s license, new drivers were required to submit a completed skills log book, signed by a supervising driver documenting that the new driver was experienced at an adequate level of practice.

After applying for a provisional license, all new drivers are subject to a minimum 18-month provisional licensing period. During that time, if a provisional license holder is convicted of a moving violation, they revert back to an 18-month provisional license. There were also sanctions for provisional drivers. For a first offense, the MVA requires the driver to participate in a driver improvement program. For a second offense, the driver’s license may be suspended up to 30 days. For a third offense, the license may be suspended or revoked for up to 180 days. The earliest a driver can move on from a provisional license to a regular license is when they reach 17 years and seven months.

As for driver education, Chapter 483 mandates 30 hours of classroom instruction as well as six hours of highway (not laboratory) instruction.

While I strongly supported the 1998 legislation, I believed something was missing in the program. Prior to that I set out on a 10-year journey to get a bill passed that would prohibit newly licensed teen drivers from carrying a passenger other than themselves for the first 180 days after they received their license.

After a long fight this popular bill finally passed into law during the 2005 General Assembly Session. During that same Session, we did more to improve the GDL program. Chapter 545 of 2005 required an individual who holds a learner’s instructional permit and seeks to obtain a driver’s license to complete at least 60 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction supervised by a driver who has been licensed for at least three years and is at least 21 years old. Ten of the 60 hours must occur during the night.

Chapter 452 of 2005 imposed an 18-month waiting period on provisional drivers convicted of violating night driving restrictions or seatbelts. Several other measures to encourage safe teen driving also passed during the 2005 Session.

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