With the proliferation of smartphones and apps, you don't need statistics to confirm the highway is filled with more distractions than ever before. When these highly popular distractions are combined with the inexperience of teenage drivers, the results can be fatal. Consequently, distractions are one of the leading causes of teenage crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 11% of teenagers that died in accidents from age 15 through 19 were distracted while they were driving.

However, smartphones are not the only distractions. Drivers between 16 and 17 have been cited to be a 3.6 times more likely to be in an accident when there are other passengers in the vehicle than when they are driving alone. Simply put, teenage drivers have not been taking the necessary precautions to ensure their safety as well as the safety of other drivers.

The solution to creating a safer and more tuned in teenage driving population is the Graduated Driver License (GDL) program. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, states that have implemented elements of a GDL have reduced their teenage crashes by 10% to 30%. While Texas already had a GDL program in place, there have been changes to the program recently. Continue reading to learn more about how the new and improved program provides young drivers with more Texas defensive driving skills.

What is the Graduated Driver Licensing?

Graduated driver licensing programs are intuitive ways to teach teenage drivers the Texas defensive driving skills necessary to safely operate a vehicle. Instead of turning teenage drivers loose once they turn 16, GDLs ensure young drivers are able to gradually gain and demonstrate safe driving practices in safer low-risk environments. While the Texas GDL program will continue to have two phases, certain elements in each phase has changed to further increase the safety and awareness of teenage drivers.

Phase 1

For a teenage driver to qualify for Phase 1, they must be at least 15 years of age. In addition, the driver must

  • Complete the Driver Education Course
  • Must have a valid Learners License, which entitles the teen to drive with a licensed driver that is 21 or older
  • Must have a minimum of 30 Hours Supervised Driving
    • Under the previous GDL program, teens were only required to have 10 hours of supervised driving. The increase to 30 hours allows the teen to gain more experience in different driving conditions, which will better prepare them for when they are driving alone.
    • Out of the 30 hours of supervised driving, 10 of the hours must be at night.
  • Regardless of the age of the teenage driver, they must fulfill a Six Months Waiting Period after their learners license is issued. This is designed to ensure all young drivers practice driving with more experienced drivers 21 or older.
  • No Wireless Communication Devices, including hands-free devices. This is designed to reduce the number of distractions for teen drivers.
  • Always Wear the Seatbelt because it is the law

Phase 2

For a teen driver to enter Phase 2, they must be at least 16 years of age and have their Phase 1 learner's license for a minimum of six months. In any case, the teenage driver will stay in this phase until they turn 18 years old.

  • Provisional License entitles the teenage driver the ability to operate a vehicle on their own. However, the GDL completion date will be printed on the license.
    • Previously, Phase 2 only lasted six months, but it has been extended until the driver turns 18. This change is designed to provide the young driver with more experience in the safest possible environment.
  • Do Not Drive Between Midnight and 5 AM unless the teen driver is accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older in the front passenger seat.
  • No More Than One Passenger Under the Age of 21 unless the passengers are family members. However, if the teen driver is accompanied by more than one under aged passenger, there must be a licensed driver 21 or older in the front seat of the vehicle.
  • No Wireless Communication Devices regardless whether it is hands-free or not.
  • Always Wear Your Seatbelt because it is the law.
  • Until the teenage driver turns 18, their license will be marked "provisional."

Safety First

Although driving is an exciting time and right of passage for teenagers, it's important young drivers establish safe driving practices and understand Texas defensive driving techniques. The changes in the GDL program reflects the statistics that teens with passengers, male drivers, and 16-year-olds have the highest crash rates. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 35% of teen drivers between the ages of 16 to 19 are involved in fatal or injury crashes because of unsafe speeds.
  • Teenage drivers are more prone than older drivers to keep shorter following distances.
  • In 2010, 54% of young drivers between 16 and 20 that were killed in accidents didn't wear their seatbelts.
  • In comparison with other drivers, teens use their seat belt the least. In 2011, only 54% of high school students always wore their seatbelt when they were riding with other drivers.

Texas defensive driving classes or traffic schools are approved by the State of Texas Education Agency (TEA). These courses are available to if you are looking to earn a discount on your automotive insurance or if you have received a moving traffic violation.

Many counties will allow you to complete a Texas defensive driving class to prevent points from being added to your driving record as well as for citation dismissal. At the same time, several car insurance providers will award you with a safe driver discount upon the voluntary completion of an approved defensive driving course.

While everyone's individual reason for taking a Texas defensive driving course or enrolling in traffic school may differ, the courses are always valuable. All courses are designed to provide valuable information regarding the most advanced Texas defensive driving techniques. In addition, these courses include updates to Texas traffic laws and help drivers understand how to avoid traffic citations in the future.