New Hampshire bill would require teens to get learner’s permits

| 12/2/2009

Highway safety is important to most people who travel the nation’s transportation arteries. Professional drivers have long been regarded as making up the majority of the safest travelers while teen drivers continue to earn poor marks.

An effort in the New Hampshire House seeks to help close the widening gap between the best and worst drivers. A bill from Rep. Evalyn Merrick, D-Lancaster, would require aspiring teen drivers to take a test before they are allowed to get behind the wheel. It also would mandate that teens spend more time practicing before getting licensed.

The House Transportation Committee narrowly voted in favor of a bill that would require teens starting at 15-and-one-half years old to take a written test before they could begin driving with an adult. The teens also would pay a $20 fee.

State law now authorizes anyone older than 15-and-one-half years to drive with an adult older than 25, without a permit. Teens can get a youth license at age 16.

Critics of the effort to require the written test and apply a fee to take it say it’s a revenue grab. They argue it won’t make teens any safer on roads. Instead, hands-on experience is the most important part of turning teenagers into safe drivers.

According to a fiscal note on the bill, the fees are estimated to bring in about $600,000 annually.

Another provision in the bill would require teens to spend more time practicing before obtaining licenses.

Teens also would be required to complete 40 hours of supervised practice driving – up from 20 hours. At least 10 hours of nighttime driving would be mandated before getting their licenses.

The state’s youngest drivers also would have to be off the road a little longer over night. New Hampshire law now calls for affected drivers to be parked from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. The bill would expand the curfew from midnight to 6 a.m.

The bill – HB579 – awaits further consideration in the House when the 2010 regular session convenes.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Hampshire in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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