State-Level Policy

Graduated Driver Licensing

Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) is the licensing system that all states use to encourage new drivers to get driving experience and to limit driving in risky situations. GDL is a three-stage system that consists of a learner period, intermediate period and an independent license.

The first step in the licensing process is the learner period. This lasts a minimum of 12 months in North Carolina. During this time, teens are only allowed to drive with an adult supervisor. They are expected to complete at least 60 hours of driving, including 10 at night. The goal is for teens to drive a lot, under many different conditions. This is a safe way to learn to drive because an adult is there to help.

After teens have finished the required period of supervised driving, they can get an intermediate license that allows them to drive without adult supervision. However, driving at night or with young passengers is limited for the next six months. Late night driving is restricted because the risk of crashing increases sharply in the evening hours. Although driving after midnight is especially dangerous, the vast majority (more than 75%) of nighttime crashes among 16- and 17- year-old drivers occur between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight. For that reason, in North Carolina teens with an intermediate license cannot drive during the hours of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. unless they are accompanied by an adult.

Teen passengers in the vehicle with a young driver can create distracting conditions that make it harder for the driver to notice developing dangers on the roadway. Therefore, in North Carolina teens with an intermediate license cannot have more than one passenger younger than 21 years old. There is an exception for siblings, but young drivers cannot have friends in the car when a sibling is present.

After the 6-month intermediate period, teens are eligible to obtain an independent license if they have no traffic citations. Drivers must have 6 continuous months of conviction free driving to obtain an independent license. North Carolina’s GDL system is one of the strongest in the nation and has been a model for other states.