Road Worrier

Obstacle to teen license under fire

Staff WriterAugust 16, 2011 

Legislators were under pressure this year to do something - anything! - to address the state's awful toll of teen car crashes, so they packed tough new standards into the graduated licensing program for young drivers.

But it turns out they got tougher than they meant to.

The law, which passed in June and takes effect in October, threatens to cause unintended confusion and disappointment for many of the 110,000 North Carolina teens who now have limited learner's permits - and for their families.

Now that Cary parent Bob Goudreau has explained the mistake to legislators and the Division of Motor Vehicles, two Triangle senators say they'll try to make things right when the General Assembly reconvenes Sept. 12 in Raleigh.

The law's most sweeping change affects teens who want to trade up from a learner's permit, which requires Mom or Dad in the front seat, to a provisional driver's license, which carries fewer restrictions.

They'll have to produce logs - signed by parents - to show they drove with front-seat supervision for 60 hours. The logs must be spread over at least six weeks, including some night driving.

The logs are required for any provisional license issued after Oct. 1, when the law takes effect. But Goudreau says the state hasn't given parents of teens who already have their learner's permit the time and information they need to comply.

His daughter, Christina, 15, hopes to get her provisional license in October. They started keeping logs when he read about the new rule in a Road Worrier column in June. Still, he figured they would have to log at least four hours a week to meet the 60-hour rule by October.

"That's a lot of driving even for an adult commuting to work each day, much less a teenager requiring adult supervision," Goudreau said in email to his state senator, Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican.

The DMV has not explained the new logs to teens who have learner's permits. Blank forms for the required logs have not been distributed.

"I know plenty of kids who don't even know this law exists, and they haven't started logging," said Christina Goudreau, 15, who got her permit last October. "I know why they made the law, but it's such a hassle."

Christina, who will turn 16 in September, relied on a parental carpool Monday morning to get to cross-country practice at Apex High. Her parents look forward to the day she can drive herself.

"We want her to be driving herself as soon as she can get her license," her father said. "Suddenly we were hit with this new requirement, with three months' notice. That was going to push her back until who knows when, and screw with our plans."

The legislation had been spurred by parents and educators worried over Johnston County's teen crash epidemic. Stevens relayed Goudreau's complaint to the law's sponsor, Republican Sen. David Rouzer of Benson.

Possible change for law

Rouzer said he had meant to apply the new requirement only to teens who receive their learner's permits after Oct. 1. That would give them a year to log their 60 hours.

He plans to push corrective legislation in September.

"It certainly was not anybody's intent to throw this on the parents and those who already have a limited learner's permit," Rouzer, a second-term legislator, said Monday. "I want it to be right. We're working diligently to try to get the technical correction addressed."

The September legislative session has a limited agenda dominated by constitutional issues. But Stevens, one of the Senate's GOP leaders, said he will work with Rouzer to get the law rewritten.

He agreed it should exempt teens who receive their learner's permits before the new requirements take effect.

"Normally when you change a law, when somebody has already started a process, you let them continue under the old rules," Stevens said.

Meanwhile, the DMV is preparing on Oct. 1 to begin requiring 60-hour logs for thousands of teens who haven't been told about the new rules for getting a provisional license.

"We have a law in place," said Johanna Reese, DMV deputy commissioner. "So we're going to proceed as the law is written until the law is changed - if that happens."

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527. On the Web at twitter.com/Road_Worrier/ and blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown/.

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