Jim Adler | The Tough, Smart Lawyer
By Jim Adler July 30, 2015

If you’re a teen or a teen’s parent, you may be asking what is graduated driver licensing, or GDL. If so, you should know that it allows teens to get a restricted driver’s license for learning purposes prior to getting a driver’s license with full privileges after their 18th birthday.

Why Rely on Graduated Driver Licensing?

As for why Texas and other states rely on GDL, the reason involves high accident rates for first-time teen drivers. Studies show that drivers under 18 are more apt to be in traffic accidents during their first year of driving, often due to lack of driving experience and a tendency to engage in risky behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drivers 16 to 19 are almost three times more likely than drivers 20 and older to be in a fatal collision. Further, the crash risk is especially high for drivers in their first months of driving, the CDC says.

Phase I – Instruction or Learner’s Permit

Texas’ GDL law applies to all drivers under 18 years old. The GDL program allows teens to “graduate” to a full driver’s license by advancing through levels or phases.

Phase I involves getting an instruction permit or learner’s permit. This can go to applicants at least 15 years old who have finished a drivers education course approved by the Texas Department of Public Safety and who also have passed a written exam.

The course, known commonly as “drivers ed,” involves sessions in a classroom and driving with an instructor. The written exam involves knowledge of traffic laws, traffic signs and rules for safe driving, for which teens can study the Texas Driver Handbook.

This written exam can be taken at an office of the Texas DPS. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has a list of eight things to bring to the drivers exam:

  • Identification
  • Social Security card
  • Two documents verifying you are a resident of Texas
  • Texas Driver Education Certificate (DE-964), which you receive when you finish driver’s ed
  • Verification of Enrollment and Attendance, high school diploma, or GED
  • Application for Texas Driver’s License (DL-14A)
  • $16 processing fee
  • Parent or legal guardian to authorize paperwork

You’ll also need to pass a vision test at the DPS office.

Though the minimum age for applying for a learner’s permit is 15, teens who are 14 can begin taking driver’s education classes.

After meeting these requirements and gaining an instruction permit, teens can drive legally, but only if at least one licensed driver 21 or older also is in the vehicle.

Phase II – Provisional License

After a driver holds a learner’s permit for six months, and after the driver reaches 16 years of age, the driver can apply for a provisional driver’s license.

To get a provisional license, drivers must log at least 30 hours of driver training with a licensed driver 21 or older, and 10 hours of it must be at night.

With a provisional driver’s license, drivers may operate a motor vehicle without supervision, but with some restrictions. These include not driving between midnight and 5 a.m. except in medical emergencies or in order to attend a school-related activity.

The provisional driver also may not drive with more than one passenger under age 21 who is not an immediate member of his or her family. Such a teen also may not drive while using a cell phone or other wireless communication device, whether hands-free or hand-held, unless in an emergency.

Phase III – Full Driving Privileges

Teen drivers who meet these GDL requirements can graduate to full driving privileges when they reach age 18.

Then, they can go to an office of the Texas DMV to have the restrictions removed and get a full driver’s license. This will not happen if the driver has failed to observe the requirements or has convictions of traffic offenses.

What About Auto Insurance?

Auto insurance is required by state law. During Phase I’s instruction permit period, teens may be covered by the insurance of the adult licensed driver riding with them. Families should contact their insurer to verify this is the case, and if not, purchase a policy which covers the teen in this way.

To enter Phase II’s provisional or intermediate license period, teen drivers must be able to show proof of insurance. Parents can add such teens to their existing family policy, or teens can get their own auto insurance policy.

Jim Adler & Associates encourages safe driving by everyone, not just teens. Graduated driver licensing is an excellent way to prepare teens for the challenges ahead.

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