Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2019

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Nevada considers lowering driving age to 14 in some cases

Drivers Edge

Jummel Hidrosollo / Special to the Home News

Michelle Harnik, 15, a student at Coronado High, attempts to avoid skidding during a training exercise as part of the Driver’s Edge program at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Most people remember the bus, the carpool, or the drive to school with family members. The last year before you can drive is especially egregious. So close, yet so far to getting that license.

But that could change for some Nevada teenagers.

A bill has been introduced that would allow certain drivers to get a license earlier than normal by adding charter school students to the list of those who can secure a restricted driver’s license as young as 14.

The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, R-Sparks, in an attempt to balance the needs of rural and urban students and to help parents who could use extra help getting children to school in the morning.

The measure also skates near the school-choice issue. Hansen said this would make it easier for kids to attend charter schools that they otherwise couldn't because of a lack of transportation.

“I’m concerned about the disconnect that some students have in high schools, particularly high schools in their neighborhood that might not be a fit for these public school students,” she said. “So they have an opportunity to go a charter school that might be addressing the interests and the kinds of things they want to do.”

Let’s break down current Nevada law regarding teen drivers:

• Any driver under age 18 applying for a license must show proof of school attendance, by having a form signed by a school official or parent, in the case of homeschooling or early graduation.

• Starting at 15, prospective drivers can enroll in driver education courses. The combination of class and drive time involves an online or in-person course plus 50 hours behind the wheel or 100 hours behind the wheel if there are no classes within 30 miles of the minor’s residence and they lack internet access.

• Drivers can get a learner’s permit when they are 15 1/2. Driving with a permit requires a passenger who is 21 years old with at least a year of driving experience.

• After you’ve had the permit for six months, and completed drive-time requirements with a clean record, you can apply for a full license. Now you’re cruising.

Getting a restricted license is a bit different, although any underage drivers must complete the driver’s education course and other requirements. There are currently 60 restrictions that the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles can place on licenses — though it could be argued the number is higher, as there is an “other” restriction that essentially covers any missing bases.

Hansen’s bill, however, would focus on expanding one of these restrictions. Current law allows the Nevada DMV to grant a restricted license to a 14- to 18-year-old if the driver who lives in a county with less than 55,000 people or a town with less than 25,000 people and the school district does not provide transportation.

If the minor driver goes to a private school, the requirements change. If the private school does not provide transportation and private transportation is “impossible or impracticable,” they can apply for a restricted license.

These licenses are extremely rare — Hansen said there is a total of 45 students using the licenses in the state. Her issue, she said, is equity — if rural students can do this, urban students should be able to as well. The restrictions on the license, she said, should help mitigate stresses around the younger drivers on the road. Current law only allows drivers with this type of license to drive to and from school only, and to not exceed 55 miles per hour, along with any other restrictions the DMV decides to impose. It would also have to be signed off on by both the principal and the parent.

Hansen said the bill won’t trigger, say, an influx of kids on the freeway, rather on predefined routes twice a day. And she stressed — straight to school, straight home.

“I’m here to dispel (the notion) that I want to give car keys to babies,” she said.

Assemblyman Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas and deputy minority whip-south, is a co-sponsor on the bill and said it would meet a need in certain communities and said he’s willing to give younger drivers a shot. “I’d give them a chance. Let them prove themselves,” he said.

A 14-year-old driver isn’t without precedent. According to Virtual Drive, an online driver’s ed course, seven states currently allow learner’s permits under age 15 — some are at 14, some at 14 1/2. Thirty-five allow learner’s permits between 15 and 16.

Teen drivers, as a whole, do have some rather dire statistics. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. Sixteen-year-olds are also the age group most likely to be in a crash, and the chance a crash will happen goes up with every passenger.

Hansen wants there to be consequences in the bill, so there isn’t abuse of the system.

“Here’s the real kicker: The student will know up front — it’s part of this process — if you violate any terms of the timeframe, any driving rules, you lose your license until you’re 18,” she said. “So, there’s serious consequences, so this is not for kids who don’t take it seriously.”

The bill is up for its first hearing at the Assembly Committee on Growth and Infrastructure at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.