California’s Graduated License System

California’s Graduated License System

The thought of your child behind the wheel of a car probably terrifies you, but most teenagers are just raring to get out onto the road on their own. Because to them a car isn’t just about a way to get around. A car is also part of their identities. Their friends and family identify them by the car they drive: “Hey, there’s Tom’s Civic coming up the street.”

More importantly, a car is about freedom—freedom to get out on their own, freedom to do things on their own schedule instead of waiting on someone else, probably you, for a ride. In some ways, a driver’s license is the first step on a teenager’s road to independence and adulthood.

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Unfortunately, as you are probably well aware, your teenager is not yet an adult. He doesn’t fully understand the consequences of his actions, or even if he does, will deliberately disregard those consequences for reasons you can barely understand.

He doesn’t fully appreciate the level of responsibility, to himself, his passengers, or other drivers and pedestrians that comes with operating a machine that weighs two tons at highway speeds. He doesn’t have the experience necessary to react to dangerous situations with confidence and calmness.

Ironically, all of this also applied to you thirty or forty years ago, but they gave you your driver’s license anyway. Today, the rules have changed for the better, and even though there are new problems to deal with, our teenagers are generally better protected from their own sense of ability than ever before.

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The Start Of California’s Graduated Driver’s License Program

Teenagers, fueled by boundless energy, a sense of invincibility, and a lack of experience, have always been the most at-risk drivers in America. However, as America’s roads, particularly in the rapidly growing urban and suburban regions, became more congested, traffic fatalities and serious injuries among teenage drivers steadily increased throughout the decades until they reached crisis levels in the 1990’s.

To curb this problem, many states, including California, began to explore ways to give teenagers more time to learn how to drive responsibly without taking away the freedom they craved. In 1998, California became one of the first states to enact a graduated driver’s license program, requiring teenagers to earn their full, unrestricted driver’s license in a three-step process.

The plan seems to have worked. States with comprehensive graduated driver’s license programs, such as California, reported an average 11% drop in traffic fatalities among 16 year old drivers in a short period of time..

What are California’s GDL Program’s Eligibilities and Requirements?

Below are the three stages of the GDL program and each corresponding eligibility and requirements.

Stage I: Learner’s Permit

  • Must be at least 15 years and 6 months old.
  • May drive only with adults 25 or older.
  • Must complete driver education.
  • Must have had 50 hours of driving practice, including 10 at night.
  • Permits must be held for at least six months.
  • No alcohol permitted in vehicles.

Stage II: Provisional License

  • Must be between 16 and 18 years old.
  • May drive with no adult present.
  • No passengers under age 20 for the first 12 months, unless a driver 25 or older is present.
  • No driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the first 12 months, with exceptions.
  • Permit must be held for at least 12 months or until age 18.
  • No alcohol permitted in vehicles.

Stage III: Full License

  • Must be at least 18.
  • Has completed stages I and II for the proper amount of time and has no outstanding DMV or court-ordered restrictions, suspensions, or probations on driving record.
  • No alcohol (open, closed, or partially removed) permitted in vehicles.
  • Even with a full license, the teen driver cannot drive between midnight and 5 a.m. or transport young passengers without an adult in the car. These limits last for one full year.

On July 1, 2008, using a cell phone (even with a headset) or any other mobile service device while driving became illegal for those under age 18.

Breaking any of the GDL rules will delay getting your license for at least a year and will show these traffic violations on your record.

How Does California’s Graduated Driver’s License Program Work?

Before a teenager is even permitted to get behind the wheel, he must complete a 30-hour driver education course. A good alternative to the inflexible classroom courses of the past is new online driver education courses. These new online courses allow your teenager to take interactive courses from his computer at his own pace.

This means that he will be more engaged and learn the material better. If he needs a break, he can simply stop for a while and resume the lesson where he left off instead of zoning out while an instructor continues to cover important information.

Some of the top online driver education courses are iDriveSafely, Improv Traffic School, Improv Traffic School, and Any one of these courses would be a great choice for completing the driver education requirement and you can check even more options on our online driver’s ed reviews page.

After your teenager receives a learner’s permit, he is required to take a 6 hour behind-the-wheel training program with a professional instructor before he can begin to practice driving with you. This is a good thing! After taking a professional course, your teenager will have at least learned the basics of operating a car before you nervously slide into the passenger seat for the first time.

Once your teenager has completed the behind-the-wheel training program, he must practice driving with you, or an adult over the age of 25, for at least 50 hours before he is eligible to take his driver’s license exam. 10 of those 50 hours must be driven at night, and you must certify this in writing to the DMV.

During this time, your teenager must keep a clean driving record to be eligible for a driver’s license.

At 16, your teenager does not receive a full license. Rather, he will get a provisional license with some heavy driving restrictions that will ease as he gets older and more experienced.

For the first year, your teenager may not have any non-family members under the age of 20 in the car unless accompanied by an adult over 25 years of age. Your teenager’s friends are often the biggest driving distraction and this requirement removes that distraction until he has enough experience behind the wheel.

Also for the first, year, your teenager may not drive between the hours of 11 PM and 5 AM unless accompanied by an adult over 25 years of age. A big problem for teenagers is drinking and driving, and this requirement decreases the risk of that occurring.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. If your teen has an official written statement from his school, employer, doctor, or parent, stating why he should be allowed to drive during the restricted hours, he may be allowed to drive during those hours.

During this probationary period, it’s extremely important that your teenager follows the restrictions and maintains a clean driving record. Failure to do so can result in fines, community service, or even suspension and revocation of his driver’s license.