What states in the Midwest have graduated driver’s license laws, and what are the differences and similarities in these laws?

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and multiple studies have shown that graduated driver’s license (GDL) laws are effective in improving teen driving safety.

Under these laws, a state imposes restrictions on young drivers until they gain more experience behind the wheel.

In 1993, the NTSB recommended that states implement a GDL consisting of three stages: 1) a learner’s permit stage, when a teenager can drive only under the supervision of an adult; 2) an intermediate or provisional license that allows unsupervised driving but includes restrictions on when the young person can drive; and 3) a full license.

The NTSB has since added recommendations aimed at reducing distractions for novice drivers: for instance, prohibiting them from transporting other teen passengers or using wireless communication devices.

Today, every Midwestern state has some type of graduated driver’s license law in place.
The minimum age for obtaining a learner’s permit ranges from 14 (in Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota) to 15½ years old (Ohio and Wisconsin). In several states, the minimum age varies depending on whether the person has completed a driver’s education program.

All Midwestern states require an initial stage of licensing for young people (usually six months), and during this learner’s permit stage, every state except South Dakota requires novice drivers to meet a supervised-driving requirement (between 20 and 50 hours).

Indiana was the first Midwestern state to limit the number of passengers that someone without a full license could carry. In 1998, it restricted a young driver from carrying any passengers other than family members for the first 90 days after obtaining a learner’s permit; in 2009, that period was increased to 180 days.

Now, all Midwestern states except for Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota impose some type of passenger restriction on unsupervised young drivers. Generally, these state restrictions limit the number of teenage passengers to one. In Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, the restriction can be lifted once the driver turns 17. In Nebraska, Kansas and Wisconsin, the restriction can be lifted while the driver is still 16.

Every Midwestern state bans unsupervised driving by young novice drivers during certain evening and overnight hours. The minimum age at which these bans may be lifted, though, varies from state to state: 18 years old in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio; 17 years old in Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska; and 16 years old in Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

More recently, states have adopted laws that ban cell phone use among teen drivers, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Dakota in the Midwest. (Every Midwestern state except Ohio and South Dakota bans text-messaging by drivers of all ages.)

This year, North Dakota became the latest Midwestern state to strengthen its driver’s license law. The new law requires teenagers under age 16 to complete 50 hours of supervised driving before obtaining an initial, or intermediate, driver’s license. In addition, drivers younger than 18 cannot use electronic communications devices. The new North Dakota law also establishes nighttime driving restrictions for individuals with an intermediate license.

This article appeared in the December 2011 edition of Stateline Midwest »