I first took my oldest child out driving a little less than a year ago after he got his learner permit. We only drove up and down the lanes in the empty high school parking lot. We also practiced parking. I don’t think we crested 10 mph. He was extremely nervous, but he managed OK. I think it took him two hours to calm down afterward.
Over the months as I drove with my son, he gradually got used to driving on low traffic residential streets. As he got better, I made him drive in a variety of conditions: day, night, dry, rainy, snowy, icy, low visibility, congestion, etc. I made him drive over mountain passes in storms. I made him drive on busy city streets and on the Interstate. By the time he got his license, he had more than the required hours of driving under a wide variety of conditions, using at least five different vehicles, including a large SUV. He is a cautious driver, but like all teen drivers, he still has much to learn.
An issue arose the other day because he had a friend that needed a ride home from school. Neither my wife nor I could remember precisely what Utah law states with respect to this. I remembered that the neighbor had been able to drive friends to and from school as long as he had a note from his parents, but my wife seemed to remember that this part of the law had been repealed.
So I went to the Internet, the vast source of all information (both true and otherwise). I went to Utah’s lovely state government website. After going through a variety of pages under the topics of transportation, licenses, laws, safety, publications, and teens, I was frustrated that I could not find what I was looking for. Somehow, I finally got to this page, titled Minor Driving Restrictions.
Provision 41-8-2 says that drivers under 17 can’t drive between the hours of midnight and 5:00 AM (with some exceptions). That’s not the issue we were concerned about.
Scrolling most of the way down the page, I found 41-8-3. Its title says, “Operation of a vehicle by persons under 16 and six months – Passenger limitations – Exceptions – Penalties.” Sounds great, but what if my son is 16 and six months already? Does this apply to him? Confusingly, it apparently does, because item (1) says that you can’t drive a passenger in your vehicle that is not a family member “until the earlier of: (a) six months from the date the person’s driver license was issued; or (b) the person reaches 18 years of age.”
Huh? How can a subsection in a provision that the title says is for drivers under 16 years and six months of age apply to someone that is older than that, but younger than 18? Who writes these laws?
Somewhere in the back of my head, I remembered a January 2007 blog post by Rep. Craig Frank (R-Pleasant Grove) precisely on this subject. Rep. Frank’s lengthy post explains that many parents and minor drivers are confused about Utah law as it relates to minor drivers. I can attest to that. We think that we are reasonably responsible and intelligent people, yet we couldn’t figure out for sure what the law really says without reading Rep. Frank’s post.
Rep. Frank explained the ins and outs of the repeal of the note-writing exception, and suggested a proposal for fixing some of the current law’s problems. Apparently those changes didn’t pass last year. Frank also nails down definitively that if you are under 18 and have had your license less than six months, you may not drive a passenger that is not a member of your family unless you have a licensed driver that is 21 or older sitting in the front passenger seat. In other words, although my son may be 16½, since he has not had his official license for six months yet, he can’t drive friends home from school.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m in favor of graduated driving privileges for teens. I know how distracting a carload of friends can be, and I know that it is best for teens to get serious driving experience before shuttling others that might increase the level of distraction. But, for crying out loud, why don’t we make this information a little more clear and available? Why isn’t this among the tidbits of information the Driver License Division hands out when you sign for your minor teen’s license? I don’t want to encourage my son to break the law; I just want to know what the law is so that we can be sure he complies with it.
I appreciate Rep. Frank’s post on this subject from last year. After finding everything I could on the state’s website, I’d still be confused as to what the law actually requires without having read that blog post. Perhaps there’s a lesson here for our state officials.