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Utah legislators want to loosen requirements for teen learner’s permits due to COVID-19 impact

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Driver’s education students at Alta High School in Sandy are pictured in this 2010 file photo.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utah legislators are promoting looser restrictions on teen drivers’ learner’s permits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

HB18 will allow the learner’s permit to be extended from 12 months to 18 months to allow more time for teens to meet their observation hours and other requirements.

The Senate Business and Labor Committee recommended the bill for approval Thursday, moving it to the full Senate. The House passed the bill Tuesday 45-28.

Bill sponsor Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, has had personal experience with the original 12-month restriction with her 15-year-old daughter during the pandemic.

“She drove all year. She worked really hard. Her birthday came right as COVID was hitting, so she could not get her driver’s license the day, or even before, before her permit expired. So she had to reapply for another permit, and the school district was not able to finish giving her any of her driving instruction,” Ballard said.

Ballard wanted to allow more time before the expiration of the permit to help others avoid the reapplication process her daughter went through.

The extension of the term that the permit is valid won’t impede qualifying students from obtaining their full driver’s license at 12 months. Students will still be required 40 hours of driving with a qualified adult, 10 more hours with an adult at night and six hours driving with an instructor.

The other major change will remove six hours of back seat observation. This will cut the required hours from 52 to a total of 46 hours that will consist of actual driving for 15- to 17-year-olds.

Ballard and Sen. David Buxton, R-Roy, removed the requirement for six of the hours of combined observation, where the student sits in the back seat and observes another driver.

“This makes everything a lot a lot simpler. Now, what it does do is it still gives the flexibility for a person, or for school policy. If they require more than one student to be with the teacher, they could require an additional student in there,” Ballard said.

Buxton said they decided to reduce the observation hours under an official driver’s ed course and left the adult-supervised hours due to the fact that permit holders commonly observe their parents or older siblings driving already.

HB18 would also allow students to receive driver’s ed courses not just through public schools, but at charter schools and Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

Ballard said the only other change, in response to a Division of Motor Vehicles request since 2003, was updating the language in the application process for the permit from “gender” to “sex.” The change was decided because they wanted to match the actual permit, which already designated “sex” as the identifier.

Ballard said this change did not have anything to do with gender politics. She said it was solely for the uniformity on documentation for learner’s permits, driver’s licenses, birth certificates and U.S. passports.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that there “will be a reduction of the original 52 hours of observation to 46 hours for 15- to 17-year-olds.” The bill would remove six hours of observation and the 46 hours are driving time.