Hey there, young driver: If you have a learner's permit now and you aim to get your provisional license this fall, you'd better plan to spend a lot of your summer driving around with Mom or Dad in the front seat.
Meanwhile, drivers old and young should get ready for a 2.5-cent tax increase, starting July 1, on every gallon of gas and diesel fuel.
Record-high gas taxes and tougher rules for the graduated driver's license program are the biggest changes that North Carolina drivers will see as a result of action - and inaction - in the Republican-led legislative session that adjourned last week.
When Republicans campaigned for legislative seats last fall, party leaders promised to "make our tax rates competitive with other states." They cut sales and other taxes in the General Assembly this year.
But they balked at proposals by some legislators to block a scheduled gas tax increase in July. A statutory formula makes part of the tax rate rise and fall with changes in wholesale fuel prices. Because of the price hikes we saw in early spring, our tax rate will rise from 32.5 to 35 cents per gallon.
Only 12 states have higher gas tax rates than ours now, according to the American Petroleum Institute. If other states are unchanged, we'll be even less competitive. Starting July 1, only eight states will have gas taxes higher than North Carolina's.
New rules for teen drivers will not become law until Gov. Bev Perdue finds Senate Bill 636 in a stack of papers waiting in her "In" basket and gives it her signature.
But for youngsters who want to get their licenses as soon as possible, it's a good idea not to wait for Perdue to sign the law and the state Division of Motor Vehicles to implement it. Because the clock is ticking.
Unchanged in the law is the first step for young drivers ages 15 to 17: Take a driver's education class and get your learner's permit. This gives you strictly controlled privileges to drive with the front-seat supervision of a qualified adult, usually a parent or guardian.
But the old law doesn't actually require you to spend time behind the wheel, getting valuable practice under parental guidance. You could just park the car and wait until you're 16, and you've had your permit for a year - without bothering to learn much about driving.
The new law changes that. Before you can trade in your learner's permit for the relaxed restrictions of a provisional license, you'll have to submit a detailed log to show that you drove at least 60 hours with adult supervision.
What? Is that a smirk I see on your young face? Let me warn you that:
Parental signatures are required.
There are penalties for falsified logs.
Now sit up straight and pay attention!
You can get credit for up to 10 hours of driving per week. That means this will take at least six weeks of driving. At least 10 of the 60 hours must be nighttime driving.
The requirement for logs takes effect with provisional licenses issued on or after Oct. 1. So kids who will turn 16 after September might want to get started by mid-August keeping track of their car trips with Mom and Dad.
The log must be submitted on a form approved by DMV. But DMV folks don't know how long it will take them to design, print and distribute log forms for more than 85,000 young drivers who get their learner's permits each year.
"We haven't begun to sort those questions out ourselves," DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell said Monday. "We've got to sit down to look at how this is going to change things from several angles, including our driver license examiners - what's going to change with their jobs and the questions they ask."
Howell said DMV will be ready to implement the law Oct. 1, but she didn't know whether the required log forms would be available before then.
An informal start
I'm not a lawyer or legislator, but I see nothing in the new law to suggest that you can't start keeping your driving log informally now and then copy the information to an official DMV form later.
There are other changes in the new graduated licensing law, including a less-onerous 12-hour log for provisionally licensed drivers.
And your provisional license can be revoked the moment you are charged with a criminal moving violation. Those offenses include reckless, impaired or aggressive driving, or exceeding the speed limit by 15 mph.
DMV examiners now hand out a voluntary log form in a packet of safe-driving educational materials for young drivers. If you and your parents want to get some practice with your log, you can pick up a copy at your nearest driver examination office.
It's not available on the DMV website ( www.ncdot.gov/dmv), but let's hope DMV will make the new mandatory log form available online.