New drivers

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A new state law that took effect Jan. 1 doubles the amount of time new drivers must spend behind the wheel before taking a driving test and qualifying for an intermediate license under the state's graduated driver's-license system.

At least 10 of the 40 hours of behind-the-wheel experience must be driven at night, also a new regulation.

Only 20 hours of training previously were required to obtain an intermediate license.

Because Missouri does not require formal driver's-education instruction, parents or a legal guardian must attest that the applicant for a license has spent at least 40 hours behind the wheel. The system counts on parents to tell the truth.

The applicant then must pass a driving test to receive the intermediate license.

Teens may begin driving with an instruction permit at age 15. A parent, grandparent or legal guardian must accompany the driver in the vehicle. An intermediate license may be applied for at age 16.

The phasing out of driver's education instruction in schools over the past decade is lamentable. Parents now are primarily in charge of teaching their children to drive. Everybody thinks he or she is a good driver. We all know better. And good drivers aren't necessarily good driving teachers.

Officials in law enforcement and traffic safety think the new requirements could prevent some accidents, especially the nighttime provision. But Randi Markham, driving examiner supervisor for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, thinks many 16-year-olds who apply for an intermediate license already have spent more than 40 hours behind the wheel.

All the same, it's reassuring to know that all of them have that experience -- at least in theory.

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