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Bill Would Enact Five of 14 ‘Essential’ Recommendations from Teen Driver Study Commission; Address AAA Findings that Parents Think Teens Unprepared to Drive Alone

Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee Chairman John S. Wisniewski announced Tuesday he has introduced legislation that would change the education and practice requirements of New Jersey’s Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program.

Wisniewski made the announcement during National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 17 – 24) at a State House news conference with AAA New Jersey and teen driver safety advocates. During the news conference, AAA New Jersey revealed 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,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the father of teen drivers. “Through my 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.”

“Preparing both teens and parents for the supervised driving phase is key to ensuring teens become safer drivers,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs and government relations, AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. “A-3309 provides the tools necessary to keep our teens and our roadways safe.”

Under Wisniewski’s 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 attend an MVC-approved teen driver orientation program. This program also would be available, but not required, for drivers between 18 and 21 who are seeking an examination permit.

The bill also would 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.

Wisniewski’s bill would also 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.

“These are the missing pieces in New Jersey’s teen driver safety puzzle,” said Wisniewski. “Not only will these requirements produce better and more savvy teen drivers, they will help parents feel more at ease when their child gets behind the wheel alone for the first time.”