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Should NC teens be able to get their driver's licenses faster?

steering wheel and dash of an automobile
Cole Freeman
Teens could move from a learner's permit to a provisional driver's license faster under a Senate bill.

North Carolina senators want to let teens get their provisional driver’s license faster.

A bill that passed a Senate committee Wednesday would let drivers under age 18 get their license after they hold a learner’s permit for nine months. Current law requires a 12-month wait.

Opponents say the longer wait promotes safe driving. Tom Vitaglione helped develop the rules decades ago.

“North Carolina has dropped the number of fatal crashes and other crashes for 15 and 16-year-olds quite dramatically with that 12-month period in place,” Vitaglione told senators.

The waiting period had been temporarily shortened to address COVID-19 backlogs. Supporters of the bill say parents liked the change and want to keep it.

“There are very anxious moms and dads out there who are very anxious to get their license,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell.

DMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin told WUNC his agency is neutral on the idea but is willing to implement whatever rules the legislature approves.

The bill calls for a temporarily shortened six-month waiting period to continue for the rest of this year.

Another provision added to the bill Wednesday addresses situations where a teen driver needs to have multiple passengers in their car to get to school.

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, said his amendment would help people who carpool to school with a teen behind the wheel. Current law prevents them from driving both a family member and an unrelated friend.

That’s a problem for a Durham mom who spoke at Wednesday’s committee meeting. She said she relies on a teenage family friend who drives her son and the friend’s sister to school.

Woodard’s amendment, which was approved, creates an exception for drives to and from school.

The bill now goes to the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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