Albany Bill Would Finally Mandate Instruction for Student Drivers (Well, a Little)

There's no substitute for face-to-face teaching. Photo: Allwright's Driving School
There's no substitute for face-to-face teaching. Photo: Allwright's Driving School

It’s about time.

Two progressive state pols want to require would-be drivers to do what they — believe it or not — do not currently have to do before getting their license: practice driving with a professional driving instructor.

Senate bill 8667, introduced by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge) and paralleled in the Assembly by Bobby Carroll (D-Park Slope), would, for the first time require drivers to complete six hours of practice “under the supervision of a driving school instructor” before they could take the road test and receive their license.

“Look, it’s reasonable to require folks to take some kind of directed training with a professional,” Carroll told Streetsblog. “The bottom line is that it will mean we have better drivers on the road.”

Currently, New York State has notoriously lenient rules for getting a driver’s license, consisting of just four steps:

  • Take an easy written test to get a learner’s permit.
  • Drive for 50 hours (15 after sunset) with any adult who has a driver’s license. The adult need not have any specialized training (and there is no real verification process to confirm that the newbie driver has indeed practiced for 50 hours).
  • Take the five-hour course (which, as of last year, could for the first time be taken online).
  • Pass the road test.

In a statement, Gournades blasted the lenient rules.

“For some drivers, the first time they take the wheel [as a licensed driver] they are in sole control of their car,” he said, adding that the current rules contribute to road violence. He cited a 2017 study that revealed that the biggest predictor of crashes was a lack of experience as a driver; the more time behind the wheel, the less likely a crash.

This has been a particularly violent year on New York City streets, with the most people killed up to this point of any year since 2013. Already between Jan. 1 and March 28, 58 people have been killed, up from 40 over the same period last year, which ended up being the bloodiest year since Vision Zero began.

Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT

“Why is it legal for a driver to receive their license without ever having taken drivers’ ed courses, or gained supervised experience behind the wheel?” Gounardes asked in a statement. “Requiring all new drivers to have on-road and drivers’ ed experience is a clear way to ensure all New Yorkers sharing the road are safer, especially when we are losing record numbers of our community members to traffic violence every single week.”

Driver education class operators will no doubt approve of the job security.

“By mandating that all new drivers undertake professional drivers’ education courses, this bill will … go a long way towards keeping all New Yorkers safer on our roads,” Stephen Walling, the president of the New York State Association of Professional Driving Schools, said in the Gounardes statement.

Update: After initial publication of this story, city Department of Transportation spokesman Tomas Garita said: “Drivers’ education is crucial to keeping pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists safe on our roads. We are currently in the process of reviewing Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Carroll’s proposed legislation.”

We also asked the state Department of Motor Vehicles to comment and will update this story if they do.