An update on the Alabama Graduated Drivers License law-Revised June 2017

 

Revised June 8, 2017

The Alabama Graduated Drivers License law was passed in its current form in 2010. HB29, a bill to strengthen the law, passed during the 2017 legislative session and was enacted into law by Governor Ivey on May 24, 2017.

So, the law has changed!

Let’s review the law and include the changes.


What?

The Alabama Graduate Drivers License (GDL) law establishes three types of drivers licenses:

  • Stage I: Learner’s Permit (age 15)
  • Stage II: Restricted License (all age 16, as long as they are 16, AND 17-year olds licensed less than 6 months.)
  • Stage III: Full License (17-years-old AND Stage II held for at least six months)

Stage II places certain restrictions on young drivers.

Who?

The restrictions apply to all 16-year-old drivers as long as they are 16. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, the restrictions do not expire when a 16-year-old driver has had their license for 6 months. The restrictions expire when the 16-year-old driver has turned 17 AND (not or) has had his or her license for at least 6 months.

 


⇒ The law applies to all 16-year-old drivers as long as they are 16 years old.


In addition, the restrictions apply to those 17-year-olds who have had their license less than 6 months.For this summary, let’s call these drivers–all 16-year-olds and some 17-year-olds–Stage II drivers.

What Restrictions?

  1. CURFEW.

The law places Stage II licensees under a curfew from midnight to 6:00 AM. There are multiple exceptions to the curfew which, frankly, make it the weakest provision in the law.  Note that this is a curfew imposed by the state, with exceptions included in the law. That does not mean that a parent cannot choose to enforce a stronger curfew. 

Exceptions:

  • The young driver is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, or any licensed driver 21 or over, with the consent of parent or guardian. My reading of the language of the law (yours may vary!) is that if the parent or guardian has CONSENTED for the teen to be out driving after curfew, the curfew doesn’t apply.
  • The young driver is driving to or from work, a school-sponsored event, or a worship-related event.
  • The young driver is driving for reasons related to a medical, fire, or law enforcement-related emergency.
  • The young driver is going to or coming from a place for hunting or fishing, and has a valid hunting or fishing license with them.

 

  1. PASSENGER LIMIT

Stage II drivers (16-year-olds and those 17 and licensed less than 6 months) may not have more than one passenger in the vehicle, not including parents, legal guardians, “family members,” or licensed drivers at least 21 years of age.

This means that these restricted drivers may not have more than one friend as a passenger. The law would not restrict the number of younger siblings in the car with these young drivers. But it would, for example, prevent the driver from driving with a sibling and two of the sibling’s friends. It would prevent a 16-year-old from taking two children she babysits for ice cream.


⇒The young driver may have no more than ONE passenger, except for parents, guardians, family members, and fully-licensed adult drivers.


Note that the exceptions listed above under THE CURFEW are only exceptions for the curfew and not for the passenger limit.

  1. NO HANDHELD COMMUNICATION DEVICES

It is illegal for 16-year-old drivers to text and drive. Actually, in Alabama, it’s illegal for ANY drivers to text and drive.

Under the GDL, Stage II drivers may not operate a handheld communication device (cell phone, for example), while driving.


⇒These young drivers may not use their hand-held cell phones.


What Happens If a Young Driver Violates the Restrictions? 

2017 CHANGES!

  • All of the restrictions under the law were, until the revisions just enacted, secondary offenses. This meant that the young driver may not be ticketed under this law unless he or she is stopped and ticketed for some other reason (speeding, running a stop sign, etc.).
  • For a first offense, the law requires that the driver be referred to “defensive driving school.” As the State of Alabama works this through, availability of these schools may be an issue.

Let me now indicate that there are, in my opinions, some ambiguity in the language of the new law. I am not a lawyer, but my reading of the law suggests to me that the following new penalties could apply to the FIRST offense, as well as to subsequent offenses.

I called Rep. Mike Holmes, the chief sponsor of the bill, on June 7th, to discuss this. He told me that the intent of the law was that the following penalties would apply only to second and subsequent violations.  He was going to take another look at the law.

For second and subsequent offenses (and here I will note that the following penalties may also be interpreted by law enforcement and judges as appling to a FIRST offense):

  • The Stage II license, the one held by 16-year-olds, may be revoked and the driver will revert back to a Learner’s Permit for six months. The language of the law also indicates the driver must “reapply” for the Stage II license. It is unclear at this time if he or she would be required to re-take the driving test.
  • Fines applied to  the young driver of $100-$350, plus court costs.
  • Entry of convictions under the law on the driving record, allowing the young driver to accumulate points for violations.
  • A parent or legal guardian who knowingly allows his or her child with a Stage I (Learner’s Permit) or Stage II license to drive a motor vehicle in violation of the applicable restrictions of the license shall be subject to a fine of up to $350, plus court costs.

The changes in the law will likely take some time to have practical effects. Law enforcement and judges have to be educated, and the folks at the drivers license offices have to develop procedures and regulations.