Beginning Aug. 1, big changes are in store for many first-time drivers in Louisiana.
Senate Bill 667 by state Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, will become law, requiring more classroom training and driving time for many teenagers.
The legislation sailed through the 2012 regular session with little opposition.
“It’s about making better drivers on the road so we can reduce accidents, save lives and fewer people get hurt,” Smith said Tuesday. “If we can do all that and make our roads safer, we can make insurance rates lower.”
The new law will subject 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to the same requirements for receiving a driver’s license and increase the requirements for first-time drivers who are 18 and older.
First-time drivers will need:
- 30 hours of classroom instruction and eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction if they are 17.
- Six hours of classroom instruction and eight hours of behind-the-wheel instruction if they are 18 or older.
Currently, 17-year-olds only need six hours of classroom education to apply for their first driver’s license in Louisiana. The new law will require them to receive the same amount of training required of 16-year-olds.
For those age 18 and older, eight hours of behind-the-wheel driving instruction will be required. Currently, no such instruction is necessary.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson characterized the change as a dramatic step forward.
“Teenagers account for a disproportionate number of crashes,” he said.
Smith said the legislation originated as a way to decrease insurance rates and make roads safer.
He said Louisiana’s roads are becoming more crowded with motorists and more riddled with accidents.
Smith said 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds are responsible for many of the wrecks.
“Fifteen- and 16-year-olds combined, you look at their accidents, and then you look at the 17- and 18-year-olds’ accident rates, the accident rate doubles,” Smith said.
Smith blames the doubling in rates on laxer instruction requirements for older first-time drivers.
In Louisiana, 15-year-olds can get a permit and drive with a licensed driver in the car after receiving 30 hours of classroom lessons and eight hours of behind-the-wheel driving instruction. Sixteen-year-olds must complete the same education requirements to get a restricted license that allows them to drive during the day.
However, those age 17 and older only require six hours of classroom lessons and no behind-the-wheel driving instruction if they are first-time license applicants.
Smith said he suspects many teenagers wait until they are 17 to avoid the stricter requirements, cheating themselves of valuable instruction.
He said there is a tremendous value to learning to drive with a trained instructor in the passenger seat.
“We believe it will reduce accidents. We believe it will save lives,” Edmonson said.