It took a number of attempts for a graduated driver licensing program to pass through the assembly in the state of Wyoming, but in 2005 the law passed.
Now those younger than 17 years old must obtain an intermediate permit before being issued a full driver's license. Essentially, drivers holding intermediate permits are not allowed to have more than one friend younger than 18 in the car, they are not allowed to drive late at night, and they and their passengers must wear seat belts.
Before Wyoming adopted this program, the facts and statistics were becoming overwhelmingly compelling: Each year the accident count involving teenage drivers grew. Young drivers were just not getting the necessary experience and skill development to operate a vehicle safety. Thanks to the graduated licensing program, now they will.
Wyoming's small population keeps many of the tragic statistics lower than most other states. But the fact is that any person who has never driven a motor vehicle, regardless of age, needs to practice.
When the graduated licensing law passed, teenagers eager to drive may have let out a collective moan across the state. But this law is a good thing. Although you can no longer get a full license at the traditional age of 16, you can still drive―just with some added safety precautions designed to build a skill foundation.
Many of us remember an incident in the news involving a teen driver―a classic example of why graduated licensing now exists. He was driving along on a sunny day with his girlfriend when he received a text message on his cell phone from a buddy. It was a forwarded joke.
The young driver not only read the joke, but also responded, via text message, to his buddy. He did not hand the phone off to his girlfriend to do the typing. Instead he chose to send the text message himself. He never saw the 63-year-old cyclist, and the cyclist never knew what hit him.
A life was lost that day, and another life changed forever―all because of inexperience and a bad decision. The young driver lost his license, spent more than a year in the legal system, and has done enough community service time to win a volunteer award. He had to wear an ankle bracelet to monitor his whereabouts. With a felony on his record, a once bright future is now cloudy.
The saddest part of this story is that the tragedy could have been avoided. With a little more training and experience, the driver might have been instilled with enough sense of responsibility to ignore the text message until it was safe to read it.
Just the Facts
There is a mountain of statistics that sling plenty of mud on teenage drivers. Most likely, if you are in this group you have heard it all before. If not, read on:
- Auto crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers.
- Most teenagers in accidents involving fatalities were not wearing seat belts.
- Sixteen-year-old drivers have the highest crash rate of any age group.
- Almost a quarter of young drivers killed exceeded the legal blood-alcohol limit.
When it comes down to it, the bad habits of inexperienced drivers that lead to crashes can be summed up pretty easily:
- Reckless driving
- Buddies in the car
- Cell phone use
The Good News: It's Time to Drive!
The graduated licensing law doesn't prevent young drivers from getting behind the wheel. In fact, you can still get a learner's permit at 15 and an intermediate permit at 16. With an intermediate permit, you can drive as much as you want―just not with a car full of buddies, not late at night, and not without wearing a seat belt.
As soon as you get the notion to drive, you should get a copy of the Wyoming Vehicle Operator Handbook. It will give you a head-start on learning all the rules of the road, basic safety, and knowledge of road markings and signs. Plus, the written test you will take for your first permit is based on these pages.
The permitting process is where you will run head-on into the graduated licensing system. Graduated licensing is a two-stage system involving an instructional permit, followed by an intermediate permit. Wyoming's Graduated Driver Licensing Newsletter outlines the program. You'll also want to read about how to get an instructional permit.
While immersed in the permitting process, you will need to keep a log of your driving time. You will need to practice driving, with adult supervision, for a total of 50 hours, with 10 of those hours being after dark.
You may also opt to enroll in a driver's education course, either through your school or at an accredited program possibly offered over the summer break. This is not a wholly necessary step to acquiring a license, but the added study will make you a better driver.
Completing a driving course may also simplify the route to earning full driving privileges and may, in some cases, allow you to skip the driving test. You may get a full license at 16 1/2 by completing an approved driving course.
Once you reach the age of 17, you can actually avoid all of the graduated training and apply directly for a driver's license.