Driver-education classes are a rite of passage for teens, but a proposed law in Trenton may send some parents back to driving school as well.
A bill now under consideration by the Legislature would double the amount of time student drivers younger than 18 would have their permits, from six months to a year, and require new drivers younger than 21 practice behind the wheel for at least 50 hours before they get their license, including at least 10 hours at night.
But the biggest change is that student drivers younger than 18 cannot get a learner’s permit until their parent or guardian takes a teen driver orientation program approved by the Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
“We’re just looking to save lives and keep our young teen drivers safe and keep others on the road safe as well,” said Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
Amodeo said he became convinced by statistics to help sponsor the bill.
“I just think it’s a safety thing, where you want to save lives,” Amodeo said.
Assembly Democrats said in a news release that the bill was inspired by an October 2010 AAA Foundation national study that found parents generally considered teens unprepared to drive unsupervised.
Nearly half of the parents surveyed said they believed that after the learning stage of the state license program there was at least one condition for which their teen was not completely prepared. Another third of parents said they didn’t believe their teen was prepared to drive unsupervised in heavy traffic, and about 20 percent of parents said they didn’t think their teen could drive unsupervised in the rain.
The bill also would make the state Motor Vehicle Commission develop new standard driver-education guidelines in conjunction with the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the Department of Education and New Jersey’s licensed driving schools. The standards would be used by the driving schools as well as public, private and parochial schools.
The bill cleared the Assembly on June 21. In the Senate, it remains in the Transportation Committee.
John Brenner, 52, of Northfield, drove to Trenton in December to advocate for the bill. He is the father of Casey Brenner, who died Aug. 20 when the car he was driving overturned several times near Exit 38A on the Garden State Parkway. The resulting crash killed three of Brenner’s fellow Mainland Regional High School football team members — Edgar Bozzi, Nicholas Connor and Dean Khoury — and injured four other players.
“These aren’t bad kids,” Brenner said Wednesday. “They are all four great kids. There are a lot of great kids out there, but they make mistakes. They make mistakes because they don’t have experience yet.”
Brenner said that what young drivers need is more practice. Even at his age, he said, he can be startled by a car that approaches faster than expected.
“That second of hesitation — you pull out and you’re done,” Brenner said.
Brenner has two other children: Shaun, 21, and Ryan, 17.
Ryan Brenner, who is now learning to drive, is extraordinarily cautious because of his brother’s death, Brenner said. He makes sure all the mirrors are adjusted and everyone’s seat belt is buckled before the car moves.
It is a lesson learned by the family, but at a terrible cost.
“It’s a nightmare,” Brenner said of the aftermath of his son’s death. “I still cry five, six times a day, and I don’t want other parents to feel the same way.”
For other area residents, however, the idea of adding new driver-education requirements seems excessive.
Outside the Shore Mall’s MVC office in Egg Harbor Township on Wednesday, Kathy Snyder, 55, was taking Rachel Edwards, 16, for her first behind-the-wheel training. Edwards, of Galloway Township, said she thinks the current system is fine.
Snyder, of Long Beach Township, is a professional driver-education teacher who operates Southern Ocean Driver’s School in Ship Bottom. Her experience is that the current six-month-long supervised learning period is adequate.
“I don’t think we need a whole year of it,” Snyder said. “For that matter, why not make it two years?”
She said parental involvement is a key factor in how a new driver performs.
Ventnor resident Eric Tillman, 23, and Elisha Muntazar, 20, of Galloway Township, also said they think the proposal is excessive. Tillman said it is “spending money on useless stuff.”
“That’s insane,” Muntazar added. “You don’t need this.”
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