You didn’t really think you got your license, did you?

I live in a state with provisional license laws. If you are under 21 when you get your license, your license is provisional for two years. If you are over 21, then it is provisional for only one. If you get stopped by a cop for a moving violation during your provisional period, your license is suspended automatically for at least a month.

Why, I don’t know. Once the provisional period is up, people will drive as stupidly as they want. I don’t see why I should be punished more harshly than someone else for the same violation just because they had their license longer than I did. In fact, they should be punished more severely because, presumably, they have more experience and should know better.

I got my license when I was 20 and I am proud to say that I am a safe driver and will continue to be a safe driver whether my license is provisional or not. I am good in the winter and on the highway. I have avoided a number of major accidents by watching other people’s driving. My insurance premium is fairly low for someone my age, and I am just happy to not be the stereotype of the reckless young driver.

That said, you don’t need to drive like an idiot to have a beef with traffic laws. One of the laws that is increasingly popular these days, but that I have just never understood, is the concept of the graduated driver’s license. These are licenses with restrictions for people under 18, such as no driving after dark or no passengers other than immediate family. The restrictions vary from state to state, but you get the basic idea.

Okay, this is usually the point where I get a barrage of indignant comments to the effect of, “BUT YOUNG PEOPLE NEED THE PRACTICE!” Yes, young people do need practice. They need practice with safe adult drivers with valid licenses. However, this alone does not explain or justify the GDL.

I am not going to argue the restrictions here, whether they are right or whether they work. I am criticizing the concept itself. First of all, if we are going to have restrictions on inexperienced drivers, they should apply to people of all ages, not just those under 18. An inexperienced driver is an inexperienced driver, period. I was not subject to these restrictions because I was over 18, but I can think of at least 2 adults that maybe shouldn’t be burning rubber with abandon right away. Yet they have no restrictions.

The other problem I have is: why the hell are we giving these people licenses? By putting restrictions on that license, you are tacitly admitting that they aren’t really ready to drive yet, and you are basically giving them a license that they can’t use anyway because there are so many restrictions on it (again, depending on the state you live in). What’s the point? And do I really want a 16-year-old who the government says can’t handle young children on the road? Or even another adult passenger?

If you want young people to have more practice and to gradually increase their level of independence, why not have graduated *permits?* Make them go through six months of the maximum-restriction permit. Then, for the first three months that they would have had a restricted license, make that, instead, the last three months of permit instruction. The permit can have eased restrictions, like driving alone during the day and driving immediate family only. When they have graduated from the ease-of-restriction permit, THEN the teen can go for her license and actually get to enjoy the privileges that come with it and be totally prepared to drive to boot.

I just think it’s messed up. A license used to signify, “Hell to the yeah, I’m street legal!” Now it’s a statement to the effect of, “Here’s your license, but but but but but…” And the once-beaming teenager stares, in horror, at the inscription from the governor on the back of her license:

You didn’t REALLY think you got your license now, did you?

Then again, who cares what I think?



  1. vesta44 · October 23, 2011

    I totally don’t understand this at all. When I got my license when I was 16, there were no restrictions on it at all, none. Granted, that was almost 42 years ago, and evidently states thought 16 year-old kids could be trusted to drive without restrictions back then. And I can tell you that I wasn’t any better a driver then than my grandchildren are now. The only difference now is that they have cell phones and can talk on them and text while they’re driving, and that definitely wasn’t an option back in the “good old days”. The weather was just as bad back then as it is now, the music was just as loud and distracting as it is now, our friends were just as rowdy and just as likely to be drunk as they are now. Why the hell we didn’t have restrictions is beyond me, but we didn’t and most of us survived it just fine.

  2. zaftigwendy · October 23, 2011

    The difference between inexperienced teens and inexperienced over-21s is one of risk-taking behavior. Multiple studies of teen brain development have shown that, while they have as much reasoning ability as adults and as much awareness of risk, teens are much more likely to engage in risky behaviors anyway. There is good reason for this – they are at the age where they need to become ready to leave their parents’ home, surely one of the biggest risks one ever takes.

    Because of this, studies of traffic safety have found that graduated licensing laws, with greater restrictions on under-21s, greatly decrease the accident rate among this age group. In over-21s, there is little difference in accident rates. These laws, which include restrictions on night driving, what passengers you can carry, etc, make us all safer and keep the teens involved from taking as many risks as they normally would, if given unrestricted driving privileges.

    I fully approve of these laws for two reasons: One, I remember being a teen and the types of risks my friends and I engaged in with our unrestricted licenses. At the time, I knew of at least 4 of my age-mates who died because of risky driving, and my own sister was severely injured with two broken cervical vertebrae. It’s a miracle she’s alive.

    The second reason is that I am now a mother of 2 teens and 1 young adult. I am fully aware of how easily my kids are distracted, and I feel that a few years of restriction, lifting when they turn 21 and reach their full majority, is a very small price for them (and me – since I have to drive them at night or if they have a group of friends going somewhere) to pay to give them a greater chance of reaching 21 in one piece.

    • JoannaDW · October 24, 2011

      I never said that there should be no restrictions of teenage driving. I said that we should hold off giving licenses to teens until they actually are capable of utilizing all of the privileges associated with it, hence my recommendations for using graduated permits as opposed to GDLs. There is no justifiable reason for giving teens *licenses* that they essentially cannot use. Plus, the concept is just odd to me. We are tacitly admitting that these teens cannot drive responsibly at this time, hence the restrictions, yet…we are giving them permission to drive ALONE at least part-time and hope that they will follow the rules? That sounds kinda dangerous to me.:-)

      Furthermore, even though there may be differences between the teenage and adult thought process, this still, in my mind, does not justify having no restrictions on new adult drivers.

      Lastly, of course there are fewer fatalities for people under 21 with the use of GDLs. They aren’t on the road as much. The real question, for me, is if this actually makes teens safer drivers. If they aren’t driving and not getting the experience, then the answer is probably no. In reality, we *might* be looking at a situation in which we shift injury and death rates into the over-21 group.

      I fully understand that you are passionate about this, as indeed we all should be. There is no good reason for people, especially young people, to die on the road because of rash decisions or just plain bad luck. I also know that, when I went behind the wheel the first time at 14, I was. Not. ready! I was scared to death all the time, over-steering was a constant, I was slow to hit the gas OR the brakes…maybe raising the driving age to 17 vwouldn’t be too bad, lol.

      However, we can’t allow this passion to lead us to support laws that make us feel good but that ultimately do not *do* good. As it is, I am not convinced that GDLs do the job they are supposed to do.

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