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Graduated Driver License is critical for teens, parents

As May comes to an end, I wonder how many people know it’s Global Youth Traffic Safety Month.  Advocates across the U.S. and around the world are beating the drum to call attention to the dangers teens face on the road. But I’m not sure that the people who most need to hear that message actually are.  I point that out not as a criticism, but to motivate all of us to do more to engage parents.

I live in New Jersey, a state recognized for having a strong graduated driver license (GDL) law. It has been in effect for more than a decade and credited with lowering teen driver crashes, injuries and fatalities to historic lows. But a recent poll of New Jersey parents of teen drivers 16 to 20 years of age, found that 68 percent lack adequate understanding of the state’s GDL law.  That’s frustrating because parents who don’t understand how and why GDL works aren’t leveraging a tool that is proven to lower their teens’ crash risk.

Parents hold the keys to mitigating this risk. Research confirms parental involvement is critical and a survey from The Allstate Foundation found that teens cite their parents as the number one influence when it comes to learning to drive.  Yet the New Jersey poll also found that only 30 percent of parents surveyed said they are their teens’ “most important driving teacher” and 16 percent said they played only a “small role” in coaching their novice driver. Ensuring that parents not only understand the important role they play in teaching and supervising their new driver, but also that their teens expect and welcome their involvement is critical.

What can we do? Parents are busy and didn’t grow up with GDL, so they’re not actively seeking out information.  Some may not even know it exists.  So it’s up to us to find ways to put GDL in front of moms and dads.  That, however, is going to take more than printing a brochure or posting content on a website.  I challenge all advocates to join with me in having a one-on-one conversation about GDL with at least one parent every week – starting this week.  Begin with a family member, neighbor or friend.  It may seem simplistic, but parents do welcome information about how they can help keep their teens safe.  I say that not as an advocate, but as the mother of a teen driver.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any member.* 

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