S.L. 2011-385 Targets Unsafe Driving by Teenagers

Fifteen years ago, the General Assembly enacted S.L. 1997-16, implementing graduated driver’s licenses requirements for people under the age of 18, who are termed provisional licensees. Pursuant to G.S. 20-11, driving privileges are granted to minors on a limited basis and are expanded as a provisional licensee meets additional requirements. The process is designed to ensure that provisional licensees have both instruction and experience—elements the legislature deems essential for safe driving—before obtaining a driver’s license.

Amendments to G.S. 20-11 in the years since adoption of graduated licensing have further restricted driving by provisional licensees by limiting the number of passengers under 21 who may be in the vehicle and by prohibiting mobile phone use by such drivers. Nevertheless, the issue of unsafe driving by teenagers continues to plague North Carolina and its legislature.

S.L. 2011-385 enacts several provisions, effective October 1, 2011, designed to address this problem.

First, the act amends G.S. 20-11 to require that applicants for limited and full provisional licenses submit to DMV driving logs signed by a supervising driver. To obtain a limited provisional license, the applicant’s driving log must list 60 hours of driving, at least 10 hours of which occurred at night. No more than 10 hours of driving per week may be counted. An applicant seeking a full provisional license must submit a log detailing 12 hours of driving, at least 6 hours of which occurred at night. If DMV has cause to believe that a driving log has been falsified, the applicant must complete a new driving log and is not eligible to obtain the license for which he or she applied for six months.

The act’s second approach to curbing unsafe driving is to require the immediate revocation of a provisional license when the licensee is charged with a misdemeanor or felony motor vehicle offense that is defined as a criminal moving violation. A “criminal moving violation” is a violation of Part 9 or 10 of Article 3 of Chapter 20 that is punishable as a misdemeanor or felony offense. The term does not include offenses listed in G.S. 20-16(c) for which no driver’s license points are assessed, nor does it include equipment violations in Part 9 of Article 3 of Chapter 20. Thus, for example, the unlawful use of a blue light on a vehicle in violation of G.S. 20-130.1 is not a criminal moving violation because that offense is an equipment violation codified in Part 9 of Article 3 of Chapter 20. In contrast, speeding more than 15 miles per hour over the speed limit or more than 80 miles per hour in violation of G.S. 20-141(j1) is a criminal moving violation as this offense is a misdemeanor codified in Part 10 of Article 3 of Chapter 20 and is not listed as a conviction for which no points may be assessed in G.S. 20-16(c).

New G.S. 13-3 provides that if a law enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person under the age of 18 who has a limited learner’s permit or a provisional license has committed a criminal moving violation, the person is charged with that violation, and the person’s license is not subject to civil revocation for a violation of the implied consent laws (you can read more about those types of civil license revocations here) the law enforcement officer must execute a revocation report and take the provisional licensee before a judicial official for an initial appearance. This requires law enforcement officers to arrest provisional licensees charged with misdemeanor motor vehicle offenses, such as speeding, for which drivers typically are cited and released.

The revocation report must be filed with the judicial official (typically, a magistrate) conducting the initial appearance on the underlying criminal moving violation. If a properly executed report is filed with a judicial official when the person is present, the judicial official must, after completing any other proceedings, determine whether there is probable cause to believe the conditions requiring civil license revocation pursuant to G.S. 20-13.3(b) are met. If the judicial official finds probable cause, he or she must enter an order revoking the provisional licensee’s permit or license for 30 days. The provisional licensee (unlike a person whose license is revoked for an implied consent offense pursuant to G.S. 20-16.5) is not required to surrender his or her permit or license card. The clerk must notify DMV of the issuance of a G.S. 20-13.3 revocation order within two business days. A person whose license is revoked under G.S. 20-13.3 is not eligible for a limited driving privilege.

S.L. 2011-385 directs DMV to study the issue of teen driving and the effectiveness of the act’s provisions. DMV specifically must determine whether, beginning October 1, 2011, there has been a decrease in any of the following types of incidents involving provisional licensees:  property damage crashes, personal injury crashes, fatal crashes, moving violations, and seat belt violations. DMV must report its findings to the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee by February 1, 2014.