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New Minnesota law boosts driving requirements for teen drivers

Teenage drivers will soon need to spend a lot more time behind the wheel with mom and dad before they can get their driver’s license.

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Teenage drivers in Minnesota soon will need to spend a lot more time behind the wheel with mom and dad before they can get their driver's licenses.

Minnesota lawmakers last session boosted the number of supervised hours required for drivers younger than 18 to get their license from 30 hours to 50 hours. If a teen driver's parent agrees to take a 90-minute parent awareness class, the supervised driving requirement drops to 40 hours. Teen drivers also will need to present a detailed log documenting these driving hours to apply for a provisional license. The new law takes effect Jan. 1.

Rochester DFL Rep. Kim Norton sponsored the bill , which requires all driver education programs in the state to offer a parent awareness class. She said often parents are not aware of the requirements and restrictions related to the state's Graduated Driver Licensing program .

"You can pass laws, but if nobody knows what they are, they don't make the difference you need them to make," Norton said.

For instance, during the six months a teenager has a provisional license, he or she cannot drive from midnight to 5 a.m. without a specific reason and may not have more than one passenger younger than 20 in the vehicle unless the passenger is immediate family.

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As she worked on the bill, Norton became convinced of the need to raise the number of hours teens must spend behind the wheel because a large percentage of teenagers fail the test on their first try. In addition, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration recommends states require 60 hours of supervised driving time.

Beginning in 2012, Minnesota launched a pilot program aimed at educating parents about the state's teen driving laws and how to keep their teenage drivers safe, said Gordy Pehrson, traffic safety program coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The course was offered in 15 communities, and 250 parents participated.

Participants were asked to take a quiz about the state's teen driving laws at the beginning of the class and then retook the quiz at the end. Pehrson said without exception the percentage of parents getting the questions correct increased on every question — sometimes dramatically.

For instance, only 23 percent of parents asked before the class knew that teen drivers are allowed to have up to three passengers in the second six months of having their provisional license. After the class, more than 79 percent of parents got the answer right. Making sure parents have a clear understanding of these laws and the dangers facing young drivers is crucial, Pehrson said.

"We're talking about saving lives. The parents need to understand what the risks are, what the laws are," he said. "We need to reach the parents. We need to give them the tools that they can use to fulfill their role to develop a safer teen driver."

Minnesota will join only three or four other states in the nation that require driver education instructors to offer a program tailored to parents, Pehrson said. Schools will have the option of using the state's curriculum or creating their own program.

Betsy Donovan, president of Northgate Driving School, said she is pleased lawmakers upped the number of hours teens will have to spend driving with their parents.

"I don't feel you can ever drive too much with your kids before they get a license," Donovan said. "The state now requires 30 hours. I tell my class I want to seem them do at least 60 hours with Mom and Dad. The more they drive, the better they are going to be."

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She also had been planning to start offering a class for parents this fall —even before the new law passed.

"A lot of (the parents) don't know half the rules that the kids have to follow, and I think it would be nice to bring the parents in and do a little education with them to help them with their student," Donovan said.

Parent Faith Thornburgh called the new law "an absolutely wonderful idea." She is pleased it will require students to spend more time practicing their driving with a parent. She also likes the idea of a class for parents.

"Sometimes we need to brush up on what they are learning, so I think it's a good opportunity," she said.

Her 15-year-old daughter, Leah, was less sure about the changes. The soon-to-be Century High School junior said 50 hours seems like a lot of supervised driving time. She also would prefer that if parents took the optional class, the required driving time would be cut back to 30 hours.

Fellow teen driver Maeve Cameron is skeptical of the new law. The 15-year-old questioned whether parents would really be willing to go to such a class.

"I think the parents wouldn't come to the class," she said. "They don't have time."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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