New laws mean more tests for teen drivers

July 29, 2009 4:48:44 PM PDT
Changes to the way teenagers get their driver's licenses in Texas may mean longer lines for everyone. Starting September 1, teens must go into a DPS office and wait to take the driver's test. We've learned the Department of Public Safety isn't planning to add any staff to help out with a possible overload of people. Current Texas law does not require a behind the wheel test for teenagers. Private driving schools give them as a requirement from the State Education Agency. But as of September 1, all teens must take a behind the wheel test at DPS offices.

Julia Davila, 17, is confident she's ready for her driving skills test.

She said, "I'm actually not at all nervous."

She's glad she's doing it now, before the new law takes effect requiring teens to take the test at DPS.

Cypress Driving School owner Jeff Adams said, "My biggest thing is trying to tell the parents, basically, you know, don't get mad at the driving schools. Don't get mad at the DPS office. They're just doing ... the cards they got dealt."

Adams says the new law is going to mean longer lines than ever at DPS office. DPS confirms it has been given no additional funding to hire more people to give tests. That's a point that Adams says will lead to students battling for a limited number of exam time slots.

"They skip school, mom had to take off work and then all of a sudden they didn't get to test that day, now they have to come back and do that all over again," Adams said.

The law was authored by State Representative Larry Phillips of Sherman. He says he wrote it after two teens died in separate wrecks shortly after getting their licenses. Critics ask, if the test is already being given by private driving schools, is the new test necessary? Is it worth the lines and inconvenience that is likely?

Rep. Phillips said, "We're talking about the safety of our young people and those that are driving around them. I don't see that as being an issue."

But parents aren't all buying that, saying it's just unnecessary to force them into missing school or work.

"It's going to be very inconvenient for families," said mother Janet Davila. "Kids are going to have to leave school to make an appointment, and then come back and take their test. If they don't pass the first time, they're going to go through it all over again."

The new driving laws also require an additional 20 hours behind the wheel supervised by a licensed driver with fewer than six points on their record. Ten of those hours must be at night. Phone and PDA use is also now banned until a driver is 18. Teen drivers now must also go an additional six months driving without passengers under age 21, unless those passengers are family members. These new laws go into effect September 1.

DPS says the tests will not take troopers off the streets. Office staff already giving tests to adults will test teens.

Everyone who gets a driver's license will soon have to prove they are in the country legally. New applicants and people who need to renew their license will have to show the necessary residency documentation. The new law takes effect October 1.

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