Lawmakers push to help NC teens get their licenses during pandemic

RALEIGH — Many North Carolina teenagers were denied the chance of obtaining their driver’s licenses due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but help may soon be on the way after four bills introduced in the General Assembly look to loosen restrictions that are currently in place.

To stop the spread of COVID-19, the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles suspended road tests to drivers in mid-March. Since its initial closing, the DMV has yet to release its reopening date.

>> Have questions about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the Carolinas? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak -- CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Four bills submitted to the General Assembly by Republicans on Tuesday address teen drivers looking to get behind the wheel.

House Bill 1213 would waive road test requirements for applicants if all requirements are met for the license as well as the consent of a parent or guardian. If passed, the law would expire Sept. 30.

Senate Bill 843 would temporarily waive road test requirements for Level 2 limited provisional licenses, which is available to teens ages 16 and 17 that need to hold their learner’s permit for at least a year. The bill would also provide $200,000 to allow crowded driver’s license offices to remain open longer, since there will likely be an increased demand due to the agency’s closure. If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1.

House Bill 1189 would provide accommodations for students that completed at least 20 hours of driver education program between Jan. 2020 and March 2020. Students who have not completed 20 hours of coursework will have to pass a proficiency examination. Students must complete at least six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction before they can be issued a North Carolina Driver Education Completion Certificate. Also included in the bill is a $10 million fund to aid driver education.

Senate Bill 833 would reduce the time teen drivers need to wait before upgrading from the limited learner’s permit to provisional drivers licenses. If the bill were to pass, it would apply to teens turning 15 on or after March 1 and would expire on June 30, 2021.

“Safety is going to be our number one priority, so we can guarantee our driver and our staff member are going to be safe,” said Steve Abbott with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. “Until we can guarantee that's not going to be an issue, we're not going to have these road tests.”

The situation is frustrating for parents and teens.

“But is there not a way we can try to prioritize some of our teens who’ve had their hours completed?” asked one parent, Amy Pharr. “Is there a plan or thought for that?”

Some parents have asked if the road tests can be waived, like was the case in Georgia.

“We don't have the legal authority to do that,” Abbott said. “That will be up to the General Assembly to do.”

A bigger concern is the inevitable backlog.

“There are a limited number of DMV's that are even taking appointments, so your opportunity for that appointment is limited,” said Pharr.

This is happening all while the NCDOT is in the midst of furloughs after the agency has lost $300 million in revenue because of the pandemic. But Abbott said it shouldn't have any long-lasting effects on those trying to get their driver’s license.

“The only impact from furloughs is there will be some driver’s license offices that will close an hour early during the weekday,” he said.

In-person driver tests have resumed in South Carolina. It's the first time they've been allowed in two months.

The South Carolina DMV said tests are now available again for non-commercial vehicle drivers who need a standard license. They will use a modified version of the test to keep social distancing in place.

You have to set up an appointment ahead of time.