Wait time for unsupervised driving in North Carolina reduced by Senate, measure now heads to House

Published 7:10 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

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More young North Carolina drivers wouldn’t have to hold a learner’s permit as long before advancing to unsupervised driving in legislation approved by the state Senate on Thursday.

The bill in essence extends and modifies state law approved during the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened from 12 months to six the time that a teenager had to hold the permit before getting what’s called a limited provisional license. That law, which was designed to help children with delayed driver’s education classes, expired Jan. 1.

The measure, which passed 38-5 and now heads to the House, would reinstate the six-month minimum for the rest of 2023 before settling permanently at nine months. The measure wouldn’t eliminate other requirements to obtain the limited provisional license, such as being at least 16 years old, logging 60 hours behind the wheel with a supervising driver — usually a parent — and passing a road test.

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Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican and bill sponsor, said the legislation responds to young drivers’ requests and would also more closely align the waiting period with that of young drivers in Virginia and South Carolina.

The bill also would slightly ease passenger constraints for a limited provisional licensee. Current law says when an unsupervised driver carries family members under age 21, no unrelated person under 21 can also be a passenger. The bill says the driver could ferry an unrelated passenger under 21 at the same time, but only for travel to and from school.

North Carolina has a three-step graduated license system for teen drivers that can begin at 15. A child can receive a full provisional license as soon as age 16 1/2.