As the last legislative session was coming to a close earlier this month, a bill that would strengthen the education and practice requirements for New Jersey’s Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program gained approval by both houses of the legislature.

The deadline for Governor Chris Christie to sign the measure into law came and went and the legislation is now dead. The bill’s sponsor promises to bring it back to life.

“This is an important piece of legislation,” says Assemblyman John Wisniewski. “We have statistical evidence and this is not in doubt that our young drivers are being injured and being killed (and) experts have looked at the data and said better training and better preparation is the way you reduce those numbers.”

Wisniewski says he asked members of the Christie Administration why the bill wasn’t signed, but he wasn’t given an answer. He says, “My plans are to re-introduce this legislation, to shepherd it once again through the committee process and once again put it on the Governor’s desk.”

Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak says, “The bill was ‘pocket-vetoed,’ meaning it came at the end of the legislative session without sufficient time for the Governor’s Office (and the counsel’s office) to responsibly review. I can say in particular about this bill that we did have some concerns about the scope of issues arising from the new requirements and insufficient time to review all those consequences — or the unintended consequences — before the deadline.”

“It’s not easy navigating the roads of one of the most congested states in the nation,” says Wisniewski, Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee. “As the parent of teenagers, I want to know that all teen drivers are fully prepared to take the wheel on their own when they head out on the Turnpike or Parkway or encounter poor driving conditions. These requirements will help produce better and safer teen drivers, while giving parents greater peace of mind.”

Under the bill, any teen driver under the age of 18 who is applying for their learner’s permit or examination permit would first be required to have a parent or guardian complete an approved teen driver orientation program, which may be done through an approved online provider and would be no longer than 90 minutes. This program also would be available, but not required, for drivers between 18 and 21 who are seeking an examination permit.

“If we want to keep our teens and our roadways safe, we need to ensure that the supervised driving phase is intensive enough to prepare them to handle the road on their own,” says Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt who co-sponsored the bill last session. “The enhancements to this program will provide the proper training to ensure that teens have the experience and confidence necessary to handle the wheel by themselves.”

The bill would require that the current six hours of certified driving instruction be private and one-on-one instruction. It also would require the MVC, in consultation with the state Division on Highway Traffic Safety, to update and standardize traffic safety/driver education guidelines for public and private schools in the state.

Finally, the bill would extend the permit phase from six months to one year for all new drivers, age 16 to 20, before they become eligible for a probationary license.

Pam Fischer, director of the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition, says the legislation is a giant step forward, “It would require parents and teens to go through about a 60 to 90 minute education program to learn about our graduated driver’s license program. We need to give our teens and their parents or guardians every opportunity to get the right amount of education and practice time behind the wheel.”

“The old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ couldn’t be more true when it comes to learning how to drive,” said Assemblyman Al Coutinho, another sponsor. “Driving in New Jersey, in particular, is no easy feat. These enhanced requirements will help keep everyone safer, both the teens learning to navigate behind the wheel and everyone else on the road, as well.”

Wisniewski first announced the legislation when partnering with AAA New Jersey to reveal the results of a wide-ranging national study that found parents consider most teens unprepared for unsupervised driving.

The AAA study found that 47 percent of parents participating in the study felt that after the learning stage of the state’s GDL, there was still at least one driving condition for which their teen was not adequately prepared. One in three parent-participants didn’t feel their teen was ready to drive unsupervised on the highway or in heavy traffic. One in five parents didn’t think their teen was ready to drive unsupervised in the rain.

“When almost half the parents of driving age children feel that their kids aren’t ready to get behind the wheel by themselves after the ‘learning phase’ of the GDL, something is seriously wrong,” adds Wisniewski. “Through this legislation, and with the help of partners like AAA New Jersey, we can work to correct this problem so that it does not continue to result in needless accidents, injuries and deaths.”