Bill passes N.C. Senate to let minors drive alone sooner, some researchers express concern over changes

Some researches, however, believe that a year of practice should be the gold standard when it comes to training new drivers.
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 11:29 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 20, 2023 at 10:25 AM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - A bill has passed in the N.C. Senate that would let certain minors apply for a limited provisional license and drive alone sooner.

Current rules allow people who are 16-17 years old to obtain a limited provisional license if they have had a limited learner’s permit for at least a year. A learner’s permit lets drivers drive with a parent, guardian or certain other licensed drivers. A limited provisional license (Level 2) lets them drive without a licensed driver, but they can’t have more than one passenger under 21 who isn’t in their immediate family and cannot drive overnight.

Senate Bill 157 “Limited Provisional License Modification” would reduce that wait time to nine months and allow for more than one unrelated passengers under 21 if those passengers are going to or from school.

Some researchers, however, believe that a year of practice should be the gold standard when it comes to training new drivers.

“I think it’s going to diminish a little bit of the safety of those kids because of the inexperience, they won’t have that much experience driving as compared to having the whole program that right now is in place. So, I think it’s gonna be a little bit riskier for some kids,” said Edward Rincon, president of Americano USA Driving School.

The license requirements that North Carolina has in place now have seen safety benefits, which many attribute to the yearlong learner period. While other states, which often only require six months of practice, have seen a 12% decline in teen fatal crashes, North Carolina has reported a 30% decrease.

“It’s important for parents to know that driving is the most dangerous thing your teen will do. It’s a leading cause of death among teens in North Carolina, and the reason it’s so dangerous is due to inexperience,” said Natalie O’Brien, a senior research associate for UNC Highway Safety Research Center. “It’s best that it’s dispersed over a longer period of time, and with driving, that allows teens to get practice in a variety of situations, different weather, different road types and just encountering different driving situations before they’re out driving on their own. Then once they are, for the first six months is still pretty risky,”

UNC Highway Research Center has a guide for parents to learn more about North Carolina’s Graduated Driver’s License and how you can prepare your teen before they’re driving on their own. You can find that guide here.

The wait time to apply for a limited provisional license was temporarily reduced to six months by an act approved in 2021, and this reduction would be extended to the end of 2023 by S.B. 157.

The bill passed in the Senate with a 38-5 vote and will need to be passed by the House before heading to Gov. Roy Cooper to be signed.

Bill passes N.C. Senate to let minors drive alone sooner