TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John S. Wisniewski, Pamela R. Lampitt and Albert Coutinho that would strengthen the education and practice requirements for New Jersey’s Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program was approved 52-26 Thursday by the Assembly.
“It’s not easy navigating the roads of one of the most congested states in the nation,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the transportation panel’s chair. “As the parent of teenagers, I want to know that all teen drivers are fully prepared to take the wheel on their own when they head out on the Turnpike or Parkway or encounter poor driving conditions. These requirements will help produce better and safer teen drivers, while giving parents greater peace of mind.”
Under the bill (A-1571), the permit phase of the state’s graduated drivers license would be extended from six months to one year for all new drivers, age 16 to 20, before they become eligible for a probationary license. During that 12 month period, they would be required to log 50 hours of practice driving, certified by a parent or guardian, before becoming eligible for a probationary license.
The bill also 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 schools, private schools and behind-the-wheel driving schools in the state.
“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.”
Finally, under the bill, 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. During the orientation program, informational brochures that contain sample practice driving logs and other valuable information would be distributed to parents and guardians.
It also would require the submission of a certificate of completion to the state Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) from all permit applicants. Failure to submit a certificate or submission of a forged or fraudulent certificate would result in the postponement or suspension of the applicant’s driving privileges.
“The old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ couldn’t be more true when it comes to learning how to drive,” said Coutinho (D-Essex). “Driving in New Jersey, in particular, is no easy feat. These enhanced requirements will help keep everyone safer, both the teens learning to navigate behind the wheel and everyone else on the road, as well.”
The bill had its genesis in an October 2010 AAA Foundation national study that found parents consider most teens unprepared for unsupervised driving:
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; and
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 will now be referred to the Senate.
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