Teenage Driving Laws

When teens turn 16, they can’t wait to get their driver’s licenses and get behind the wheel. There are, however, a number of states where this isn’t as straightforward. Despite most states allowing 16-year-olds to obtain their driver’s licenses, they are often not allowed to drive whenever and wherever they want. 

As well as requiring driver education hours prior to obtaining a license, many states have instituted graduated licensing programs so teens cannot receive a full license until they are 18 years old. By knowing the laws, you can make getting your license a positive experience and stay out of trouble on the road.

Graduated Driver’s License

To help teens work up to a full, unrestricted driver’s license, all 50 states have implemented graduated driver’s license programs (GDLs). There are three stages to a GDL program:

  1. In the learner stage, teens are supervised while they drive, often take driver’s education courses, and must pass a driving test to progress.
  2. In the intermediate stage, teen drivers are subject to restrictions in order to reduce crashes and promote safe driving.
  3. Teenagers receive full, unrestricted driver’s licenses during this stage.

There are differences in the ages at which each stage begins, as well as the requirements and restrictions for each stage. For specific rules and regulations, you should check with your state’s Department of Driver Services or Department of Motor Vehicles, although the Governors Highway Safety Association also provides information on each state’s requirements. The following state requirements are specific:

  • Colorado teens can get a permit at age 15 if they take driver’s education, 15 1/2 if they take a driver awareness course, and 16 without taking any classes.
  • A learner’s permit can be obtained at 14 1/2 in Idaho and Montana, and an intermediate license at 15 in both states.
  • Drivers under the age of 17 are not eligible for an intermediate license in New Jersey.


State curfews have been implemented in order to keep teens safe on the road. It is possible to be ticketed or have your license suspended if you are caught driving after curfew. 

If teens can provide evidence that they were involved in an approved activity, they can often get around the curfew if they work late or drive to and from school events. The following are a few of the curfews imposed by major states on teen drivers:

  • Virginia prohibits drivers under 18 from driving after 11 p.m. in the morning.
  • Illinois prohibits drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 who are in the permit or initial licensing stage from driving between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Teens who have held a license for less than a year are prohibited from driving between 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  • Teenagers are only allowed to drive in certain regions in New York. The heart of New York City, for instance, prohibits teens from driving on certain roads and freeways. The majority of regions also prohibit teens from driving between 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  • Teenagers in South Carolina are only allowed to drive alone from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the winter and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer, unless they are going to or from work or school.

Passenger Limits

According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, having one passenger in a car with a teen increases the risk of an accident by 44 percent, and the risk increases when you add more passengers. 

Think twice before loading your car with friends the day you get your license. Many states limit the number of passengers you can have in your car in order to prevent accidents.

  • During the first 12 months you have your license or until you turn 18, Illinois requires you to have only one passenger under the age of 20.
  • For the first 12 months after receiving a license, Texas limits teens to one passenger under 21.
  • It is illegal for a 16-year-old driver to drive with more than one passenger, regardless of their age.
  • While Florida does not limit the number of teenage passengers, it strongly encourages parents to set their own limits.

Most of the time, exceptions to passenger rules are made for family members, allowing teens to transport their parents, grandparents, and siblings.

Texting and Driving

Texting and driving are popular among teens. Teenagers are affected by texting and driving laws, even though they were not specifically written for them. Distraction.gov reports that 39 states prohibit texting while driving for all drivers. 

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association reports that five other states prohibit teen drivers from texting. Moreover, 10 states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of handheld cell phones in cars. 

A number of states prohibit teens from using their cell phones while driving, including Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, and New Jersey.

Losing Your License

Your license can still be lost in an instant even after you’ve worked hard and waited so long to obtain it. To teach teen drivers a lesson, most states provide harsher penalties than they do for adult drivers. In some states, you can get your license suspended for simply exceeding the speed limit by five miles. Other behaviors, such as drinking, smoking, or not attending school, can also result in the loss of driving privileges. 

In Florida, for instance, if you’re caught with tobacco, you can lose your license for up to a year. In addition, if you get six points on your license before turning 18, you’ll be restricted to driving for business purposes only, such as to and from school or work. 

The points for speeding are 3 points for every 15 miles over the posted speed limit, and 3 points for driving after hours. Some states also allow you to lose your license through the following methods:

  • Ohio drivers who are caught speeding could lose their licenses until they turn 18, although most teens get their licenses suspended for 30 days and must attend a driver safety course.
  • If you speed, break curfew, or get into an accident before you turn 18, you might have to continue driving with restrictions after you turn 18 instead of getting a non-restricted license.
  • In South Carolina, accumulating six or more points before turning 17 will result in a six-month suspension of your license.
  • Your license will be revoked for 60 days if you commit a serious traffic violation in New York. Speeding is included in this, even if it is only a few miles over the posted speed limit.

Safety First

It can be frustrating and confusing to navigate the rules surrounding teen driving, but remember that they are in place to keep you and other drivers safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Graduated Driver Licensing laws have resulted in a significant decrease in traffic accidents involving teens. 

You will be safer if you obey the teen driving laws in your state. Even though they’re annoying, they’re worth it.

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