Significant changes to Michigan’s Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program take effect today, Wednesday, March 30.
Under the new law, teenage drivers with a Level 2 license must comply with new driving restrictions, including a new cap on nighttime driving hours and limits on the number of passengers transported in a vehicle.
“We’re very much in support of this law,” said AAA of Michigan Spokesperson Nancy Cain. “We imposed graduated licensing laws in the 1990s and studies show teens must work up to driving gradually. This law will help kids be safer.”
The new law addresses two aspects of Michigan’s GDL law and applies to persons 17 or younger. The new restrictions for Level 2-licensed drivers apply to all teens who possess a Level 2 license, including those teens who received a Level 2 license prior to today.
“This new law will help strengthen the graduated licensing approach where teens gain more driving privileges as they get older and acquire more experience,” said Jack Peet, AAA of Michigan Traffic Safety Manager.
The law prohibits teen drivers from transporting non-family passengers under the age 21 for the first six months of a Level 2 license, and allows only one non-family passenger under age 21 for the remainder of their Level 2 licensure period unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or another adult age 21 or over who has been approved by a parent.
The law makes exceptions for teens driving to or from school or school-sanctioned events.
“If it’s school-sanctioned, then the teen can have more than one person in the vehicle,” Cain said.
The new law also prohibits new teen drivers from driving between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they are driving to or from work. Level 2 licensed drivers are prohibited from driving between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. to school or a school-sanctioned event unless accompanied by a parent, legal guardian, or licensed adult over 21-years-old.
The old law allowed teens to drive solo until midnight.
In the last five years, approximately 24 percent of young driver fatal crashes in Michigan occurred on dark or unlit roads, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, which also reports that nearly 14 percent of young drivers will be involved in a crash during the first three years of driving.
“The more teens drive, the more seasoned they become and the better they react to situations,” Cain said.
The law was initially proposed to restrict Level 2-licensed drivers from using cell phones for texting or talking unless it’s for reporting a 911 emergency, but that was omitted from the enacted legislation.
“We wanted the cell phone provision in the final legislation but it was considered too restrictive,” Cain said. “We’d like to see the cell phones banned in the future because teens need as few distractions as possible.”
Penalties for violations are considered civil infractions.
According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, 154 people were killed and 1,485 were seriously injured in 2009 in Michigan crashes involving drivers age 16 to 20. Of those fatalities, 80 were 16- to 20-year-old drivers or passengers.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports the fatal crash risk for teen drivers increases incrementally with each additional passenger. With three passengers, the fatal crash risk is three times higher than when a teen driver is alone.