Rules of the Road: Graduated license reaches 10-year anniversary

6:23 PM, Jun 29, 2011   |    comments
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Friday marks 10 years since Tennessee put new limits on teen drivers with the Graduated Driver License.

The GDL places restrictions on young drivers from age 15 through age 18.

"Some teenagers, I think they may see that as a hindrance, that it's not allowing them to be out driving at a certain time or driving with, say, their friends in the vehicle, they may see that as preventing them from doing something that they want to do," said Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Randall Martin. "I think, by the time they turn 18, then yeah, you get that sense that now they've kind of graduated into that driver's license."

Sgt. Martin said, in the decade since the law went into effect, the number of fatal crashes involving teen drivers has dropped, although he points out that teen drivers are still responsible for most crashes in Knox County.

According to statistics gathered by the state Dept. of Safety, in 2000, the year before the GDL was introduced, there were 189 fatal crashes involving teenage drivers on Tennessee roads. By 2009, that number had fallen to 115 crashes, a nearly 40% drop.

"I think, with the numbers we've had over the years, those teenage wrecks coming down, the overall teenage fatalities and fatality-related crashes coming down each year, is proof of (the law working,") Sgt. Martin said.

Here's how the Graduated Driver License works:

- At age 15, teens can earn a Learner Permit after taking a vision exam and written test. They can only drive when accompanied by an adult aged 21 or older, the occupants of the vehicle must wear seatbelts, and they can not drive between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

- At age 16, after having a valid Learner Permit for at least 180 days with no more than six points on the license, and completing at least 50 hours of driving experience, including 10 hours at night, young drivers can earn an Intermediate Restricted license. IR drivers can only have one passenger in the car at a time and cannot drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Seatbelts also are mandatory for occupants.

- At age 17, after having a valid Intermediate Restricted license for a year and no more than six points on record and no second seatbelt violations, a teen can earn an Intermediate Unrestricted license. These drivers and their passengers still must wear seatbelts, of course.

- Finally, at age 18, teen drivers can earn a regular Class D license.

"With everything going the way it's going, the GDL is here to stay, the graduated driver's license is here to stay, and it's probably something that I would say is just going to be improved on as time goes on," Sgt. Martin said.

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