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Young Drivers Would Need 50 Practice Hours to Get License Under Advancing Bill

Most teenagers in New Jersey are so eager to get their driver’s licenses that it becomes a birthday errand, a milestone to achieve the day they turn 17.

But Krishna Patel, a junior at West Orange High School, waited two months past his birthday to get his, nervous enough about road safety that he wanted extra time to practice.

“I was reluctant to put myself behind the wheel,” he said.

Such caution drove Patel and two of his classmates to appeal to lawmakers Monday to support a bill that would require anyone under age 21 to complete 50 practice hours of driving before they can get a driver’s license in New Jersey.

“The whole point of this bill is that practice is what improves people, and a lot of teenagers know about this — they play sports, do instruments, whatever they do is practice. Every single day, they practice in order to get better,” said Bryce Mengden, another West Orange student. “It should definitely apply to something that can kill someone, injure someone, make New Jersey a safer place. Everybody should practice as much as possible.”

Forty-seven other states already have such requirements in place, leaving New Jersey, Arkansas, and Mississippi as outliers, said Tracy Noble of AAA-Mid-Atlantic.

New Jersey allows 16-year-olds to get a special learner’s permit and drive under the supervision of a licensed driver if they complete six hours of behind-the-wheel driver training, but otherwise the state does not require practice hours for anyone else who wants to take the road test.

The lack of mandated practice hours contributed to New Jersey’s mediocre score on the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety’s annual report released earlier this month. That group recommends 70 hours of supervised behind-the-wheel training for teen drivers.

Teens have a greater risk for car crashes than any other age group. More than 2,100 young drivers died in traffic crashes nationally in 2021, an 11% increase from about 1,900 the year before, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In New Jersey, crashes involving young drivers accounted for 11% of the state’s 699 traffic fatalities in 2021, according to that data.

Under New Jersey’s legislation, anyone under age 21 who has a learner’s permit must log at least 50 hours of practice driving, including 10 hours after dark. The driver’s parent, guardian, or a supervising driver must certify that the practice hours were completed, and a permit holder who submits a fraudulent certification would face a license suspension. A sample practice driving log would be included in educational materials distributed to parents of rookie drivers under 18.

The West Orange students implored lawmakers in the Assembly’s community development and affairs committee to pass the bill.

“Upon my first driving lesson at night, I was able to experience how much power one has behind the wheel. A positive start promotes competence, while poor quality and less practice hours may lead to risky behaviors,” West Orange senior Tatiana Garcia told the committee.

Committee members unanimously agreed to advance the bill, which the full Senate passed unanimously Monday. It now awaits a vote before the full Assembly, as well as the governor’s signature, before it can become law. The current legislative session ends Jan. 9.

Source: New Jersey Monitor

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Leonard Maxwell

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