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Virginia driving law gives some teens less practice time before getting their license

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ROCKY MOUNT (WSLS10)-- A newly proposed law has many driving school instructors worried about teen drivers, as the law reduces the required amount of time 18-year-olds must have a learners permit.

The law in question is State Senate Bill 555- which driving instructors say does some good as well. It forbids drivers with a learners permit from using their cell phone while driving or having more than one passenger under 21 in the car. Those are changes that are expected to cut down on distractions-- keeping the driver and all of the passengers safe as well.

It's the second part of that law that has some driving instructors concerned. It says anyone who is 18 or older can apply for their drivers license after having their learners permit for 60 days. That two month window for practice is significantly less than the nine months of practice and instruction that is typically required for teens with their learners permit before getting their license.

Holly Carpenter owns Aim High Driving School in Rocky Mount and Floyd-- she says the law worries her because of the lack of experience this group of teen drivers are getting.

"After two months of driving, I'm sure you can remember, you didn't have all of the kinks worked out. I know I didn't have all of the kinks worked out after only 60 days of driving," says Carpenter. "So if we make that the minimum and that's all that's required, they just have less experience."

Experts say inexperience behind the wheel is the leading cause of car crashes for teen drivers-- it's an issue Carpenter and other driving instructors are working to cut down on by offering drivers more chances to practice their skills.

The new law also eliminates the drivers education class requirement that 18-year-olds used to achieve. Now only students under the age of 18 are required to show proof of driving instruction and practice.

Studies show that nearly half of high school students will get in some type of a crash before graduation. Many parents worry that by lowering the required instruction and practice time for 18 year olds, that may lead to even more teen-involved crashes.

"The number one cause of teenage fatality crashes and crashes in general is a lack of experience," says Carpenter. "When you take away the requirement of driving 45 hours with their guardian, or not having to sit in a drivers ed class or be evaluated behind the wheel, we're making it easier for them to create issues on the road."

She says she has heard concern from parents, which is why she's created an expedited drivers education class for 18-year-olds. It takes half the time and costs half the price of the regular class, but gives them one-on-one time with an instructor-- allowing them to learn and practice their driving skills before applying for their driver's license.

You can find out more about that course here.

Virginia Senator Steve Newman says the General Assembly checked with the insurance industry-- going over the bill before it became law. He says the insurance experts told them the change was a good idea and helped to support and form the law.