Bill Would Enact Five ‘Essential’ Recommendations from Teen Driver Study Commission; Address AAA Findings that Parents Think Teens Unprepared to Drive Alone
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John S. Wisniewski and Pamela Lampitt that would strengthen the education and practice requirements for New Jersey’s Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program was advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.
“This legislation provides the missing pieces in New Jersey’s teen driver safety puzzle,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee. “Not only will these requirements produce better and safer teen drivers, they will help parents feel more at ease when their child gets behind the wheel alone for the first time.”
Under the bill (A-3309), any teen driver under the age of 18 who is applying for their learner’s permit or examination permit would first be required to have a parent or guardian complete an approved teen driver orientation program, which may be done through an approved online provider. This program also would be available, but not required, for drivers between 18 and 21 who are seeking an examination permit.
“If we want to keep our teens and our roadways safe, we need to ensure that the supervised driving phase is intensive enough to prepare them to handle the road on their own,” said Lampitt (D-Camden). “The enhancements to this program will provide the proper training to ensure that teens have the experience and confidence necessary to handle the wheel by themselves.”
The bill would also require any driver under the age of 21 who holds an examination or special learner’s permit to complete a minimum number of certified practice driving hours with a parent, guardian or adult supervisor. Any teen driver with a special learner’s permit would be required to complete 50 hours of practice driving, 10 hours of which would be at night, in addition to the currently required six hours of certified driving school instruction. Drivers with an examination permit would be able to complete the aforementioned requirements or, alternatively, complete 100 hours of certified driving, 20 hours of which would be at night.
Additionally, the bill would require that the current six hours of certified driving instruction be private and one-on-one instruction. It also would require the MVC, in consultation with the state Division on Highway Traffic Safety, to update and standardize traffic safety/driver education guidelines for public and private schools in the state.
Finally, the bill would extend the permit phase from six months to one year for all new drivers, age 16 to 20, before they become eligible for a probationary license.
Wisniewski first announced the legislation when partnering with AAA New Jersey to reveal the results of a wide-ranging national study that found parents consider most teens unprepared for unsupervised driving.
The AAA study found that 47 percent of parents participating in the study felt that after the learning stage of the state’s GDL, there was still at least one driving condition for which their teen was not adequately prepared. One in three parent-participants didn’t feel their teen was ready to drive unsupervised on the highway or in heavy traffic. One in five parents didn’t think their teen was ready to drive unsupervised in the rain.
“When almost half the parents of driving age children feel that their kids aren’t ready to get behind the wheel by themselves after the ‘learning phase’ of the GDL, something is seriously wrong,” added Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the father of teen drivers. “Through this legislation, and with the help of partners like AAA New Jersey, we can work to correct this problem so that it does not continue to result in needless accidents, injuries and deaths.”
The bill was approved by the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee by a vote of 8 to 0 and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.