Provisional drivers struggle to handle teen laws

Tasha Haase Christiana Smith and Jenna FenstermakerRostin AhmadiGetting a driver’s license and having the freedom to drive has always been one of the staple events of being an American teenager. However, many teens find themselves frustrated in response to the provisional license laws and feel hampered by their existence.

For the most part, there is little opposition to the regulations of first obtaining a license. First, one must pass both a driver’s education course and a written permit test, followed by taking official driving classes. After holding a permit for six months, one must pass a driving test at the DMV, and then will be given a license.

“It was kind of intimidating at first because you’re not sure what other people are going to do on the road,” junior Jake Hubbard says. “But after a while, driving has become really simple.”

But for the first 12 months of having a license (or until they are 18), drivers only have a “provisional license,” which has several key limitations: California law states while drivers have a provisional license, they cannot transport other people under the age of 20 who do not have a valid license or drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. In the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the laws remain generally the same, with exception to a 10 p.m. curfew for provisional drivers.

If provisional drivers are pulled over breaking one of these laws, they can be either ordered to pay a fine or complete a certain amount of community service. If repeated, or drivers are found in serious offense, their license may even be revoked. Other traffic violations, however, such as speeding, driving while distracted, or running a stop sign, are treated normally at the officer’s discretion.

The most common reasons youth get pulled over, according to Carmel police officer Kenrick Shen, are texting, talking on the phone and not stopping at stop signs.

“It’s unbelievable how those things go hand in hand,” Officer Shen says. “Most of the time when somebody rolls a
stop sign, they’ve got a phone in their hand.”

The city of Carmel also has implemented the Juvenile Diversion Program, an initiative to correct mistakes so they don’t form habits later in life. The program is designed for youth who commit non-violent offenses, such as a stealing a candy bar or running a stop sign. For eight weeks students can take classes discussing the various principles about the importance of the law or road safety, and eventually have the spot removed from their record.

“The most important thing,” Officer Shen continues, “is to just be open and honest with the police.”

Shen explains that unless they have suspicion that someone might have drugs, weapons or any other serious threat, they are trying to be respectful .

Senior Lennie Rodriguez’s experience when pulled over was exactly that. He was pulled over past curfew, without a license, and while committing a traffic violation.

“All we had to do was take a class and now it’s off our record,” he says. “It was that easy.”

As far as how strict the police tend to be, Shen explains that each incident is on a case-to-case basis.

“Every officer has their discretion of what to do and gauge whether to enforce more of the letter of the law or the spirit of the law.”

But most of all, Shen stresses one simple truth: “Just follow the rules. They’re designed to keep people safe…yourself and others.”

Shen also notes that only a small percentage of drivers they pull over are provisional, and that as a whole youth are doing a nice job behind the wheel.

Special thanks to Officer Kenrick Shen of the Carmel Police Department for his assistance with this article.

-Jack Ellison