North Carolina Lawmakers Allow Teens to Receive Driver’s Licenses Sooner

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to receive a Level II driver’s license, a teen driver would need to complete sixty hours of supervised driving within a twelve-month period.  During the lockdown, the state changed the law to shorten the period to six months. This was done in order to remedy the longer wait times and temporary stoppage of instruction caused by the pandemic. This rule, however, expired at the beginning of 2023, thus re-extending the time to get a license to twelve months.  This left many teenagers frustrated for not being able to receive their licenses in a shorter time.

“I was affected because I got my permit last year, but because of the rule change I got pushed back by six months,” Joey Taylor, a sophomore, said. She continues, “That affected me because I was planning on getting a job, and I would be able to drive myself to and from practice.”

It was this frustration that caused the General Assembly to respond with legislation that would extend the six-month rule until the end of the year. Additionally, the law would permanently shorten the pre-pandemic twelve-month rule to nine months. But teens will still need to complete sixty hours of supervised driving in order to get their Level II license.

The bill passed both houses with bipartisan support. Governor Roy Cooper, however, declined to sign the bill citing safety concerns. He clarified with a statement on his website saying:

“For years, NC’s graduated driver’s license process has significantly improved safety for all motorists; however, this legislation passed by a large margin because it should help reduce the waiting time for young people wanting their license. I have concerns that this law could make our roads less safe, and I encourage the Division of Motor Vehicles and the legislature to monitor its effects closely.”

Despite his concerns, Cooper also declined to veto the bill, letting it become law.

Safety is a legitimate concern. Car accidents are the second biggest cause of death among children and teens in North Carolina behind gun violence. But proponents of the policy change, like Ms. Pettifer, a social studies teacher, point out that although the timeframe for getting a license has been shortened, the number of required supervised driving hours is still the same. 

As the year 2020 gets further and further away from us, lawmakers will continue to have to contend with pandemic-era rules and precedents that many people don’t want to see go away.

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