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Graduated Licensing Law

Graduated licensing is a system designed to delay full licensure, allowing beginners to obtain their initial experience under lower risk conditions. It allows young drivers to improve their skills and driving habits, and restricts nighttime driving, when most teen driver accidents occur.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as of May 2005, 41 states and the District of Columbia have three-stage graduated licensing law programs, but the systems vary in strength. Almost every state has at least some form of restrictions on young drivers. Am. Sub. SB 35, Ohio’s graduated licensing law bill, was signed into law on December 1, 1997. The state’s full graduated licensing law went into effect January 1, 1999.

What is graduated licensing?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines the three graduated licensing stages as:

  • Stage 1: Learner’s permit. This stage requires teen drivers to pass vision and knowledge tests; drive with a licensed adult age 21 or older and requires that all occupants wear seat belts. Other requirements include a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level set at zero or near-zero tolerance, that the young driver remain traffic-offense and alcohol-offense free in order to move to the next stage and that the permit’s appearance is distinctive from other drivers licenses. In an optimal system, the minimum age for a learner’s permit is 16 and requires holding a permit for at least six months.
  • Stage 2: Intermediate or probationary license. Drivers complete Stage 1 and pass a road test. It requires that all occupants wear seat belts, that state laws address a BAC level at zero or near-zero tolerance, that a licensed adult be required to accompany the teen driver during late night hours, and that the driver remain traffic-offense and alcohol-offense free for 12 months in order to obtain a full license. Optimal Stage 2 provisions include nighttime driving restrictions starting at 9 or 10 p.m., teenage passenger restrictions and full licensure not before age 18.
  • Stage 3: Full-privilege license. Available at age 18, upon completion of the probationary licensing stage.

Graduated licensing systems are not a panacea, but they can reduce the motor vehicle injuries among young drivers. In states that have elements of graduated licensing, the benefits are evident.

Initial results from Ohio’s graduated licensing law

A report released by the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) in January 2001 found that teens are safer behind the wheel due to Ohio’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) law. Since the law’s enactment, it’s estimated that 30 lives have been saved. Teen drivers license suspension rates increased 261%.

Other findings include:

  • In comparing crash data of those licensed under GDL with those who weren’t, overall crash rates decreased by 23%. Young driver “at-fault” crashes decreased by 1%.
  • Males saw a much larger decrease in crashes than females.
  • Crashes involving young drivers and alcohol use have decreased.
  • Overall traffic conviction rate of young drivers decreased by 15%.

Access the complete study online at

IIHS study

An IIHS study released in February 2005 found crash rates for 16-year-olds fell 26% between 1993–2003. The fatal crash rate for these drivers declined sharply after states began enacting graduated licensing laws in the 1990s. The overall number of 16-year-old drivers in fatal crashes decreased from 1,084 in 1993 to 938 in 2003, while there was an 18% increase in the 16-year-old population.

Although not a study of graduated licensing per se, it looked at the status of 16 year-olds in states both with and without graduated licensing.

While the population-based ratio of fatal crash involvements declined, the 2003 rate based on the number of licensed drivers didn't change compared with the 1993 rate. Seventy-three 16-year-old drivers per 100,000 license holders were in fatal crashes in 1993. This compares with 74 per 100,000 in 2003. See Table 1 for licensing and fatal crash rates of 16-year-olds 1993–2003.

Table 1: Licensing of 16-year-old drivers and fatal crash rates involving 16-year-old drivers 1993–2003
  % 16 year-olds licensed Fatal crashes per
100,000 population
1993 42 31
1994 42 32
1995 43 35
1996 41 33
1997 43 31
1998 43 29
1999 37 29
2000 37 26
2001 34 24
2002 32 27
2003 31 23

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

An important finding of the IIHS study is that restrictions on 16-year-olds did not simply shift the crash risk to older teens. Crash rates dropped 11% for 17 year-olds and 6% for 18-19 year-olds. One of the most dangerous scenarios is when a teenage driver transports other teens and, on a per capita basis, this kind of crash declined 39% during 1993-2003.

Table 2 provides an estimate of crash reductions in selected jurisdictions with graduated licensing, including Ohio.

Table 2: Estimated crash reductions in selected jurisdictions with graduated licensing
  Crash reduction (in %)  
British Columbia 16 %
California 0-28 1
Florida 9  
Michigan 29  
North Carolina 23  
Nova Scotia 23-37  
Ohio 23  

1 The percentage reductions shown for California are based on three studies, two of which found crash reductions of 17 and 28%.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Information on the IIHS studay is available online at

Other teen driver findings

A 2002 study by the Automobile Club of Southern California shows that teen alcohol-related crashes were reduced as a result of the state’s 1998 GDL law. The alcohol-related crash rate of 16-year-olds dropped 16% in the first year after California’s GDL took effect and 13% in the second year.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that 5,691 teenagers ages 13-19 died in motor vehicle crashes in 2003. This is 35% fewer than in 1975, and about 5% fewer than 2002.

According to IIHS, 42% of teenage motor vehicle deaths in 2003 occurred between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Studies of night driving curfews indicate that crash reductions of 60% or more can be achieved during restricted driving hours. Ohio’s law includes nighttime driving restrictions.

Low BAC thresholds for young drivers also reduce the problem. An underage driver in Ohio who has a BAC level of .02% or more faces penalties under a charge called Operating a Motor Vehicle After Underage Alcohol Consumption.

Another study published in the March 22, 2000 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms what many have long suspected regarding teen passengers. The study found that 16-year-old drivers carrying one passenger were 39% more likely to die than those driving alone. That increased to 86% with two passengers and a whopping 182% with three or more. Driver distraction is the main reason for the rise in risk. The rate for 17-year-olds was even higher: 4%, 158% and 207% respectively.

Ohio’s graduated licensing law limits the number of passengers to the number of installed safety belts.
NOTE: Access additional Ohio graduated licensing information online at

43% of all 16- and 17-year-old Americans were licensed in 2002, the latest year for which statistics were available. In 1992, that figure was nearly 52%.
(Federal Highway Administration and US Census Bureau)

Ohio’s Graduated Licensing Law Provisions

Age and other restrictions for temporary permit holders:

  • A temporary permit can be obtained at age 15 1/2. The permit is valid for one year, and must be held for at least six months prior to becoming eligible for a probationary (also called an intermediate) license.
  • Temporary permit holders must carry their temporary permit and an identification card with them while operating a vehicle.
  • Temporary permit holders under age 16 must be accompanied by an “eligible adult,” which is defined as a parent, guardian, legal custodian, licensed driving instructor or a licensed driver age 21 or older acting in loco parentis. The eligible adult must have a valid drivers license and occupy the front passenger seat.
  • Temporary permit holders age 16 or older must be accompanied by a licensed driver age 21 or older while driving. The adult must occupy the front passenger seat.
  • All vehicle occupants under the age of 16 must wear safety belts when being driven by a temporary permit holder.
  • The number of vehicle occupants is limited to the total number of originally installed safety belts.

Drivers training certification:

  • Holders of temporary permits are required to verify completion of 50 hours of driving with a parent or guardian, including 10 hours of nighttime driving. This is in addition to the driver education requirement that both public and private driver education courses consist of a minimum of 24 hours of classroom instruction and 8 hours behind the wheel. The student’s parent or guardian must sign an agreement with provider of the driver training program prior to the start of such a program. Training must be completed by all temporary permit holders under age 18 prior to obtaining their probationary license. A probationary drivers license is defined as a license issued to anyone under age 18.

Probationary drivers license eligibility:

  • In order to be eligible for a probationary license, a temporary permit holder must complete the driver training certification requirements noted above and have held a temporary permit for at least six months. This means that a person must be at least 16 before being eligible for the next licensure step, a probationary or intermediate drivers license.
  • The temporary permit holder must also pass the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ driving and maneuverability test prior to issuance of a probationary license.
  • A probationary license is held until the age of 18 when full driving privileges without restrictions become available to those completing the probationary licensing stage.

Curfew restrictions:

  • Temporary permit holders under age 17 are prohibited from operating a motor vehicle between 1 and 5 am unless accompanied by an “eligible adult,” as defined under the third bullet in section one. This is a secondary enforcement violation meaning that if a person is stopped on another alleged traffic violation, this can also be enforced.
  • Probationary drivers license holders under age 17 are prohibited from operating a motor vehicle between 1 and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, with the following exceptions: If the probationary drivers license holder is driving to or from work, to or from a school activity or in an emergency situation. This is also subject to secondary enforcement.

Penalties for traffic violations and other offenses:

  • During either the temporary or probationary licensing stages, there is a 90-day license suspension for accruing two moving violations before age 18, and a one-year suspension for three moving violations.
  • Temporary permit and probationary license holders who are convicted of certain traffic related violations before age 18 can lose their license for six months.
  • Temporary permit holders and probationary license holders who are convicted of certain alcohol-related violations (4511.11 DUI) before age 18 will have their license suspended for six months. If the offender is not yet 15 ½, the offender will not be eligible for a temporary permit until age 16.

Full licensure eligibility:

  • Successful completion of the probationary licensing requirements.
  • Licensee meets the minimum age requirement, which is 18.