About GDL


Extensive research has found that novice drivers, particularly young drivers, have a higher risk of collision than older and more experienced drivers (e.g., Mayhew and Simpson 1990; Mayhew and Simpson 1995; Mayhew et al. 2004; Simpson and Mayhew 1992; Williams 2003). More specifically, drivers 16-19 years of age have a fatality rate that is four times that of drivers aged 25-34, and nine times that of 45-54 year-olds (a fatality rate of 27 per billion vehicle kilometres travelled for 16-19 year-olds, compared to a rate of 6 for drivers aged 25-34, and 3 for those between 45-54 years of age; Mayhew et al. 2005).

Historically, strategies designed to address and prevent this serious road safety and public health problem have included some form of a driver licensing system that requires beginners to qualify for a licence before achieving the privilege of operating a motor vehicle on public highways. The "gold standard" that has emerged is graduated driver licensing (GDL), a system that has been widely adopted throughout Canada, the United States, and Australasia. By definition GDL is multi-staged, with most programs including, at a minimum, a learner stage and an intermediate stage before graduation to a full licence. While GDL programs may vary across jurisdictions, research has demonstrated the safety value of the graduated licensing approach over more conventional ones (Shope 2007; Simpson 2003).


The concept of GDL was first formally described in the early 1970's in the United States and a model system developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1977 (Croke and Wilson 1977). While there was virtually no progress on the legislative front in Canada or the United States from the late 1970's to the mid-1990's, many agencies vigorously promoted the concept. However, in August of 1987, New Zealand introduced the first truly graduated driver licensing system. The 3-stage program applied to all drivers between the ages of 15 and 25, inclusive, and all motorcycle operators. This development was heralded in North America and cited extensively in Canada as a legislative initiative to emulate.

By the early 1990's in Canada, GDL was being actively and aggressively promoted by a diversity of agencies and individuals, both inside government - laying the empirical foundation and making the case to politicians - and outside of government - creating a receptive public climate for change. In April 1994, the Ministry of Transportation for the province of Ontario introduced the first graduated licence system in Canada. Shortly thereafter, in October of that year, the Province of Nova Scotia introduced a graduated licensing program. This was a watershed in the history of graduated licensing not only in Canada but also in North America. During the next five years, an additional four provinces introduced GDL. Today, all provinces and territories, with the exception of Nunavut, have implemented a GDL program for its beginning drivers.

Furthermore, all of the United States have introduced some version of GDL programs, starting with Florida on July 1, 1996. The evolution of GDL in Australia paralleled the progression that took place in North America; recent initiatives in Australia demonstrate considerable progress, with a 3-stage GDL system being introduced in New South Wales in July, 2000.

The Principles of GDL

Experience is critical to the development of driving skills because increases in driving experience result in decreases in the risk of collision (Mayhew and Simpson 1990; Mayhew and Simpson 1995; Warren and Simpson 1976). As such, beginners need to drive as much as possible. Paradoxically, this exposes them to the risk of a collision. New drivers, therefore, need a means for gaining experience while minimizing risk. This is a basic tenet of graduated licensing. Somewhat like an apprenticeship program, it is intended to ease the novice into the full range of traffic conditions. In this manner, GDL provides a protective way for new drivers to gain experience. As experience and competency are gained, exposure to more demanding situations are phased in.

Graduated licensing also addresses age-related or lifestyle factors that give rise to the greater crash risk of young motorists, by minimizing the opportunities for them to engage in risky behaviours or encounter risky situations. For example, zero BAC provisions and limits on the number and/or age of passengers are designed to reduce the incidence of drinking and driving, which is particularly risky for youth, and to reduce opportunities for peer pressure.

A fundamental issue is whether GDL should apply to all novices or just those who are young. Certainly, both groups are at risk because they are inexperienced; young beginners are at even greater risk owing to the additional influence of age-related factors, such as peer pressure and thrill seeking. Accordingly, jurisdictions in Canada that have already adopted GDL programs have applied it to all beginners - a practice to be encouraged, since evaluations have shown that the collision reductions from these GDL programs extend to novice drivers of all ages (Mayhew et al. 2001; Mayhew et al. 2002).

How GDL Works

GDL systems attempt to provide a protective environment for novice drivers by lengthening the learning process and imposing a set of restrictions aimed at reducing their risk of collision. To achieve this, most GDL programs are multi-staged, typically including an extended learner's stage and an intermediate or novice stage before graduation to a full licence. The learner's stage involves a period of supervised driving - a critical stage that cannot be bypassed. Also, most GDL systems stipulate that the learner's licence must be held for a certain minimum period of time - typically several months to a year.

Graduated licensing systems also impose a set of restrictions in both the learner and novice stages that relate to when the novice can drive, where they can drive, with whom, and how. These restrictions are intended to address conditions and circumstances known to put novice drivers at risk. They may include, for example, restrictions from operating on certain high-speed highways, being accompanied by a licensed adult at all times, driving during daylight hours only, and prohibiting driving after drinking any alcohol. Ideally, these restrictions should be removed gradually and systematically, so that the novice enters the driving task and earns the privilege of full unrestricted driving in a step-by-step, progressive manner.

In addition, GDL programs typically include a penalty structure that imposes sanctions at a lower threshold than applies to fully licensed drivers. The threat of punishment or its application is assumed to deter unsafe driving or other violations and to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of the graduated licence. One of the more popular sanctions has been to extend the graduated licensing period, or move the driver back in the system (i.e. withholding full driving privileges for a longer period of time).

This inventory is designed to summarize the current status of GDL programs administered within each province and territory. The following aspects of both learner and novice phases are provided: age restrictions; entry and exit requirements; the duration of each specific phase; driving restrictions; supervision requirements; suspension and prohibition aspects; driver improvement actions; and any additional noteworthy features. Relevant contact information is provided as well.


Croke, A. and Wilson, W.B. (1977) Model for provisional (graduated) licensing of young novice drivers. Contract Number DOT -HS-6-01384. Springfield, Virginia: Technical Information Services.

Mayhew, D.R. and Simpson, H.M. (1990) New to the road. Young drivers and novice drivers: Similar problems and solutions? Ottawa, ON: Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada.

Mayhew, D.R. and Simpson, H.M. (1995) The role of driving experience: Implications for the training and licensing of new drivers. Toronto, ON: Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Mayhew, D.R.; Singhal, D.; Simpson, H.M.; and Beirness, D.J. (2004) Deaths and Injuries to Young Canadians from Road Crashes. Ottawa, Ontario: Traffic Injury Research Foundation.

Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; and Singhal, D. (2005) Best practices for graduated licensing in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Traffic Injury Research Foundation.

Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; Williams, A.F.; and Desmond, K.J. (2002) Specific and Long-Term Effects of Nova Scotia's Graduated Licensing Program. Arlington, VA.: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Mayhew, D.R.; Simpson, H.M.; Groseillers M.; and Williams, A.F. (2001) Impact of the graduated driver licensing program in Nova Scotia. Journal of Crash Prevention and Injury Control. 2(3):179-192.

Shope, J.T. (2007) Graduated driver licensing: review of evaluation results since 2002. Journal of Safety Research, 38(2):165-175.

Simpson, H. 2003. The evolution and effectiveness of graduated licensing. Journal of Safety Research 34(1): 25-34.

Simpson, H.M. and Mayhew, D.R. (1992) Reducing the Risks for New Drivers: A Graduate Licensing System for British Columbia. Ottawa, Ontario: Traffic Injury Research Foundation.

Warren, R.A. and Simpson, H.M. (1976) The Young Driver Paradox. Ottawa, Ontario: Traffic Injury Research Foundation.

Williams, A.F. (2003) Teenage drivers: Patterns of risk. Journal of Safety Research 34(1): 5-15.