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State legislature moves forward bill that could ease license restrictions during COVID-19

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The North Carolina House and Senate are in the process of enacting legislation that would modify driver’s license requirements and waive driving tests for certain licenses due to current DMV and school closures.

House Bill 1189 would apply to teens who received classroom driver education between January and March 16 and are currently seeking a level two driver’s license. They would be temporarily exempted from completing the road test requirement for a level two license as long as they have completed at least 15 hours of classroom instruction prior to March 16.

A level one license is a limited learner’s permit for teens aged 15-17 with a driving eligibility certificate and driver’s education certificate. Those teens must also pass a written, sign and vision test, and are restricted to driving within the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Level two entails a limited provisional license, which requires that a teen hold a limited learner permit and complete at least 60 hours of driving. Level three is the full provisional driver’s license.

Students who have not yet completed at least 15 hours of classroom instruction may be allowed to take and pass the proficiency examination developed by the Department of Public Instruction to waive the classroom instruction requirement, according to the bill.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, is among the sponsors of the bill and said he doesn’t view the changes as a safety threat because students already have to completed a “graduated, thorough process” for obtaining a driver’s license.

“(Students) will have to meet other requirements,” he said. “(The bill) isn’t waiving anything in terms of knowledge or proven performance capabilities.”

The bill was filed after numerous emails to legislators from parents of driving students, Warren said.

HB 1189 has passed in the House and was referred to the Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee last week. If moved through committee, it would be placed on the calendar to be considered by the Senate, including any amendments attached to the bill from the committee, or referred to another committee. If passed, the law would become effective July 1 and last no longer than 180 days or when the Division of Motor Vehicles resumes administering road tests.

The bill would also appropriate $10,000 from the state’s 2020-21 General Fund to the DMV to develop and maintain a list of individuals issued a limited provisional license following waiver of the road test.

Warren said this particular issue is among a set of issues that may be overlooked when considering all the effects of COVID-19 on the economy.

“When you shut down the economy, you don’t see everything that’s affected,” Warren said.

He added that it’s likely to have a greater push as one of the primary sponsors is Rep. John A. Torbett, R-108, who serves as the senior chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Warren is also a member of the committee.

Another bill aimed at teen drivers is Sen. Carl Ford’s Senate Bill 833, which would change the time required to hold a limited learner’s permit to six months instead of one year. For the first three months, limited learner’s permit holders would only be allowed to drive between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. Those time restrictions would be lifted for the remaining three months.

Additionally, the bill would only require six months of an unrestricted out-of-state license for any out-of-staters between the age of 16-18 looking to obtain a full driver’s license in North Carolina.

The bill also appropriates $5,000 from the state’s 2019-20 Highway Fund to the DMV to implement the act.

The latest movement of SB 833 was on May 27 when it was re-referred to the Senate Transportation Committee. Its next stop would be the Rules and Operations of the Senate committee.

If passed, the bill would be effective immediately and apply to individuals aged 15 by March 1. It would be repealed June 30, 2021.

Ford said he anticipates the bill will move forward later in the week or senators may decide to attach it to another bill.

He added that license requirements haven’t been discussed or updated in a long time.

Other bills aimed at driver’s licenses and DMV operations — neither of which have passed the Senate and House — include SB 843, which would temporarily waive the road test requirement for level two licenses as well as appropriate funds to the DMV to implement a program that would expand office hours in response to the backlogs resulting from the pandemic.

The amount of funds proposed in the bill is $200,000, which would come from the state’s 2020-21 Highway Fund.

Additionally, HB 1213 would waive the road test requirement, but it calls on the parents or guardians to accept any financial liability for the teen’s driving actions.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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