Graduated Drivers License Law

  • On April 30, 2010, Governor Bob Riley signed into law enhancements of the existing Graduated License Law, which places certain restrictions on newly licensed drivers. According to the Alabama Department of Public Safety and the actual text of the law, the law went into effect on July 1, 2010.

    Here are the fundamental provisions of the law, in question and answer format. This is an abbreviated, informal summary and is not a substitute for understanding the full law.

    What does the law do?

    It establishes three levels of license instead of two. The two-level system provided for (1) the learner’s permit and (2) the full, unrestricted license. The new 3-level system provides for (1) the learner’s permit, (2) the restricted license, and (3) the full, unrestricted license. So, what’s new is the restricted license, an intermediate step between the learner’s permit and the full license. The restricted license is, basically, a drivers license with some additional restrictions on the driver.

    Who has a “restricted license”?

    First, all 16-year-olds, as long as they are 16. (The only exception is 16-year-olds who have been legally emancipated by the courts.) The restricted license would also be held by any 17-year-old who has been licensed for less than six months. For example, if an individual goes and passes the driving test when she is 16 years, 10 months old, she will still have a restricted license until some months after turning 17.

    What are the restrictions on these drivers?

    1. There is a curfew.
    2. There are limits on the number of non-family passengers they may have with them when they are driving.
    3. There are restrictions on the use of hand-held communication devices while driving.

    What is the curfew for 16-year-old (and some 17-year-old) drivers?

    These young drivers may not drive between midnight and 6 a.m. However, there are a number of exceptions. They may drive during these hours if they are:

    • accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
    • accompanied by a licensed adult, 21 or older, with parental consent. 
    • going to or from work.
    • going to or from a school-sponsored event.
    • going to or from a religious-sponsored event. 
    • driving due to a medical, fire, or law-enforcement emergency.
    • driving to or from a hunting or fishing activity in possession of a hunting or fishing license. 

    Don’t these exceptions weaken this part of the law?


    What are the passenger limits?

    This is perhaps the most significant change in the law. Under the modified law, no 16-year-old driver, and no 17-year-old driver licensed less than 6 months, may drive with more than one non-family passenger.

    Please give some examples of unlawful driving under this part of the law.

    A 16-year-old drives to or from school in a carpool with two (or more) other students. This is unlawful. That young driver cannot legally drive to or from school with more than one passenger, unless one or more passenger is a family member.

    A 16-year-old drives to a football game with two friends. This is unlawful. He could drive to a ballgame with one friend as a passenger, but not two. (Because the law allows for an exception to the curfew for young drivers going to and from a school-sponsored event, it is tempting to think that it legal for a 16-year-old driver to drive to football game with multiple passengers. But, the exceptions only apply to the curfew part of the law.)

    A 16-year-old girl has an afterschool job babysitting two children. With parent permission, she drives both children to get ice cream. Even though the parents have given permission, this is not lawful under the new law. In this case, she still has more than one passenger, which is normally not lawful.

    But what about all the exceptions mentioned above, such as going to and from work, or to and from a school-related event?

    Those exceptions only apply to the curfew, not to the passenger limit.

    What are the restrictions on the use of handheld communication devices?

    Young drivers with the restricted license (again, all 16-year-old drivers and some 17-year-old drivers) may not use a handheld communication device while driving.